$53k raised for baby's surgery lost to 'scammer' on crowdfunding website

Madam Duong Thi Hai Nhi with her baby daughter, who was born with Apert syndrome - a genetic disorder where the skull does not grow normally and the fingers are fused together.
Madam Duong Thi Hai Nhi with her baby daughter, who was born with Apert syndrome - a genetic disorder where the skull does not grow normally and the fingers are fused together.ST FILE PHOTO

At least three police reports made by beneficiaries of crowdfunding sites

An online scammer has been targeting people who raised money on crowdfunding websites.

The Sunday Times understands that at least three police reports have been made by beneficiaries, who received public donations via Give.asia, against a woman who claims her name is Ashley Lee. More than $60,000 in total is involved, with one victim alone losing about $53,000.

The reports allege that "Ms Lee" got the distressed mothers to hand over some money by offering to sell them hugely discounted milk powder or by proposing to help them handle their hospital bills.

It may be the first known case of an online scammer taking advantage of those who raised monies on crowdfunding platforms.

It comes as a Code of Practice for online charitable fundraising was launched last month, with the aim to ensure donations are used for their intended purposes, among other things. The Commissioner of Charities developed the code together with four crowdfunding platforms, including Give.asia.

Three other police reports have been lodged against "Ms Ashley Lee" for other alleged scams.

One of the crowdfunding victims is housewife Duong Thi Hai Nhi, 23, a Vietnamese who lives in Singapore. Her baby daughter was born with Apert syndrome - a genetic disorder where the skull does not grow normally and the fingers are fused together - and needed about $55,000 for surgery at KK Women's and Children's Hospital.

 
 
 
 

After Madam Hai Nhi started her online campaign last May, Ms Lee got in touch with her through Give.asia and advised the mother to have the procedure done at Gleneagles Hospital instead.

According to Madam Hai Nhi's police report, lodged on Jan 31, Ms Lee told her to transfer money to her and she, in turn, will help her to settle the hospital bills. Ms Lee accompanied Madam Hai Nhi on all her daughter's medical checkups between May and September.

In July, Madam Hai Nhi raised $53,981 from donations on Give.asia and she transferred $53,504 in batches to Ms Lee's account between June and September for the hospital bills. Ms Lee has not been answering Madam Hai Nhi's calls since last month.

"My daughter's head surgery and operation to separate her fingers were to take place next week but now have to be postponed because the hospital told us they have not received any deposit," said Madam Hai Nhi, adding that Ms Lee had so far paid only about $6,000 in hospital bills and kept the receipts.

In the other two of the three scams, Ms Lee had purportedly befriended the victims on "Ian Free Milk Blessing", a Facebook page she started, and persuaded them to launch campaigns on Give.asia.

Madam Suriyana Asmoni, 33, got to know Ms Lee last May through the Facebook group which seemingly was set up to give free milk powder to low-income families.

Madam Suriyana's one-year-old son was born with an abnormal opening in the diaphragm and other organs as well as a milk allergy. He needs a special milk formula that costs about $107 a tin.

Ms Lee referred her to Give.asia last May to share her predicament with others. Within six months, the campaign raised $50,000.

After much persuasion, Madam Suriyana transferred $5,215 in several transactions last month to Ms Lee, who promised her speciality milk powder at a cheaper rate. Madam Suriyana has not received any milk powder and Ms Lee has not been contactable since.

Another woman in her 30s, who declined to give her name, has also lodged a police report. She said her toddler has several deformities and needs surgery. After her online campaign raised more than $10,000, she transferred a few thousand dollars to Ms Lee but did not get any milk powder.

Attempts to reach Ms Lee by The Sunday Times on Facebook and her two cellphone numbers were unsuccessful. When contacted, Give.asia co-founder Aseem K. Thakur said it "sympathises with the beneficiaries and is committed to cooperating with the police".

The police have confirmed that the reports were lodged and said they are looking into the matter.


Help groups duped

Give.asia's chief development officer Dennis Yeo, 45, has lodged a police report against a "Ms Lee".

According to the police report lodged by Mr Yeo on Jan 31, he got to know Ms Lee last year when she approached him to do some charity work. She later proposed they start a food company together. After securing three mobile phone lines to be used for the food company, he incurred phone bills of $736. She held two of the phones, and he has not been able to get her to pay the bills.

Mr Nizar Mohd Shariff, who founded Free Food for All, a registered charity that provides free meals to the less fortunate, has also lodged a police report against the same woman.

Mr Nizar said he loaned her close to $10,000 but has not been able to get the money back since last December.

He got to know her in March last year and worked with her to give grocery vouchers and free meals to low-income families.

Said Mr Nizar: "She had capitalised on her relationship with me and Dennis from Give.asia to gain the trust of the beneficiaries.

"We had a similar goal to help the needy so we supported her. But now it seems like her efforts to help the less fortunate may be premeditated to prey on them."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 04, 2018, with the headline '$53k raised for baby's surgery lost to 'scammer''. Print Edition | Subscribe