Fraudster who impersonated TV actor among complaints received by charities watchdog

A fraudster set up an Instagram account using TV actor Ben Yeo's name in order to get people to donate money purportedly to help sick children.
A fraudster set up an Instagram account using TV actor Ben Yeo's name in order to get people to donate money purportedly to help sick children.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER FILE

SINGAPORE - The Commissioner of Charities, Dr Ang Hak Seng, said his office received about 25 complaints about fund-raisers annually in the past three to five years.

The complaints were mostly from donors who wanted to know what happened to the money they gave or who suspected the money was misused.

In one case, a fraudster set up an Instagram account using TV actor Ben Yeo's name to try to dupe people into donating money purportedly to help sick children. In another, a woman sent out an appeal for donations on Facebook to help a cancer-stricken single mother, but donors became suspicious when the money went into her bank account instead of the cancer patient's.

Said Dr Ang: "The outcome of investigations is that the bulk of the complaints had nothing to do with fraud or dishonesty, but with a lack of (fund-raisers') know-how - know how to keep records or know how to comply with fund-raising regulations."

But Dr Ang stressed that he would not hesitate to work with the police if there was fraud or dishonesty.

In a clear case of fraud, someone impersonated Mr Yeo on Instagram to ask for donations for a charity concert to help the disabled and children suffering from cancer.

Said Mr Yeo, who filed a police report in November: "I was mad (when I found out about this) and also worried that someone might believe this and get cheated. But so far, no one told me they donated."


Personal assistant Vivian Pan raised about $10,000 after she posted an appeal for $1 donations on Facebook in June to help a cancer patient, who is a single mother. The patient also told Ms Pan she wanted $40 in supermarket vouchers in exchange for three tins of Milo she had at home.

When some people offered to donate groceries, Ms Pan rejected them, while those who donated money were told to deposit it into her bank account instead.

Ms Pan had explained in an earlier interview with The Straits Times that she used her own bank account because she was worried that the patient might not be able to apply for help schemes if she was found to have money in the bank. She also said she rejected the grocery items as the patient's two-room flat was cramped.

Dr Ang would only tell The Straits Times that his office and police are looking into this case.

All fund-raising appeals - whether online or offline, big or small - have to meet basic regulatory requirements, he said. These include giving accurate information to donors, managing and using donations responsibly and keeping proper records of donations received and disbursed.

Dr Ang cited the example of a group of dog lovers who raised funds to give the canines a home through a crowdfunding site. Donors became suspicious and complained to the COC office after the group failed to give an update of the sums received.

The COC office checked and found that the group was not being dishonest, said Dr Ang. It did not update donors because it was not aware of its obligations as fund-raisers.

As online giving becomes more popular, the number of complaints involving online fund-raisers has also risen.

About half of the complaints his office received this year had to do with online fund-raisers, Dr Ang said, without giving details. His office will look into each complaint, he added.

"Singaporeans give generously. But you must also... ask questions about the fund-raiser's legitimacy and accountability."