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Beware scams with collars

BEIJING (AsiaNews): The exponential growth of the Internet in China has made it easier for charities to solicit donations for their work, but also opened the door wider for bogus charity scams, including some from men wearing collars and soutanes.

The World Bank estimates that this year alone at least 721 million people in China (52.2 per cent) will use the Internet, making it an attractive and cost-effective media for charities to seek support, and everyday new organisations appear online looking for donations, with many claiming to be Church-connected.

They mostly use QQ and Weixin, as well as some other platforms geared to fund raising. Some campaigns have been launched by priests for specific projects, such as building a church or a social service project.

These sites are often operated by sisters or priests, although the manager is usually a professional who collects the red envelopes (financial gifts) and gives a transparent account at the conclusion of the campaign, replete with photographs and receipts.

Given the ease of online transfers and the opportunity to donate any amount, however small, donors often do not take much interest in how their offerings are used. There is no control system and this leaves room for scams.

In general there are three types of scam. Money thirsty priests are among them and they have found the Internet an easy way to top up their bank accounts.

Some make a real profession of it, spending long hours online getting to know people, especially wealthy, middle-aged women.

Every so often they ask for money from these women who feel highly protective of the collars online. Heart wrenchers can include poor health or need for study abroad.

Stealing the digital identity of clergy is another way to go. This requires some fleet of foot, as the deal has to be done before it is checked with the real identity, so it must be fast with constant changes.

A priest from Dali, who recently discovered his name was being used by a Mr. Jing, commented, “Jing has a bad reputation in my diocese as a scammer... not only for money, but tricking women into have sex with him.”

When Jing was challenged he threatened reprisals.

The third group are the real experts and usually share something deeply personal to win people’s trust and even admiration. With great care and caution they target rich and good-hearted women.

In today’s world, many people lack the necessary criteria to distinguish between true and false, believing everything they read on the Internet.

On the other hand, digital media is a convenient and cost-effective way of fund raising, but it needs better monitoring mechanisms.

The Church also needs to be more conscious and cautious, or it could do a lot of damage to its own cause.

The recent law on charitable organisations says, “It is forbidden for any organisation or individual to use lies in the name of a charitable organisation, or to pretend to be such; to conduct charitable activities or obtain funds by fraud.”

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