By Phillip Anjorin and Silas Jonathan
Anyone with an iota of compassion will feel pity for Alexandra. On several social media platforms, Alexandra, a 9-year-old girl, is portrayed as a desolate cancer patient who has already suffered severe hair loss and is struggling for her life.
The emotional video depicted Alexandra in tears as she reached out for financial assistance for treatment.
“I don’t want to die,” she says as tears drizzle down her cheeks.
The video has been shared as a sponsored post on Facebook, YouTube, and Google Ads. It has so far generated a lot of reactions among social media users. Yet DUBAWA’s findings revealed the organisation soliciting the funds, “Netiv Halev,” is fraudulent.
Alexandra’s supposed quest for survival
Cancer is one medical condition that experts are yet to overcome despite technological advancement. A study in 2012 revealed that cancer claims as many as 21,000 lives every day globally.
According to the World Cancer Research Funds, more than 18 million cases were diagnosed in 2020, with varying impacts on gender, among other factors. Further findings also revealed that cancer is the second largest cause of death in children between the ages of 1 to 14, with accidents claiming the highest.
Alexandra, supposedly one of the few whose medical state the world would know of, was in tears as she shared her wishes to stay alive. The alleged 9-year-old girl pleaded with viewers to come to her aid as her parents are too poor to pay her medical expenses.
The plea has generated more than 14,000 reactions, 6500 comments and 1900 shares on Facebook as of July this year. It has also generated more than 2.9 million views and 2,200 likes on this YouTube channel which has more than 3,410 subscribers since it was posted on July 2.
Lanre Olagunju, an editor for a popular news medium in Nigeria, said he had donated $10, and his wife was planning to give out even more money for the cause.
“I gave $10. I paid using my card. My wife is planning to give more,” he said while expressing surprise that the whole thing was a scam.
Unlike Lanre, Esther Danladi, a civil servant in Abuja, was not so fortunate. After donating $5 for the cause, she said that her dollar domiciliary account was wiped out.
“The video touched my heart. I cried because this little girl seemed helpless. But minutes after I donated, my account was wiped out,” Esther claimed.
Apparently, the whole thing is more premeditated than it appears on the surface. Ads and promotions are currently being run on Google AdSense to give the post a wider audience reach.
The information on their website, dedicated to collecting the donation, indicates unsuspecting members of the public have already donated more than $536,000 out of the $727,881 target by June 2022.
But a month later, in July, the benchmark increased to $1.15 million after the contribution nearly hit the previous limit.
It seems the perpetrators are on an unending mission to keep siphoning funds from unsuspecting victims.
A sophisticated process involved
To donate to the cause, the user is required to provide a mail address, name and phone number and subsequently make a payment using credit or debit card details.
In cases where the request ends unsuccessfully, an automated follow-up mail is sent to the donor to try it again. The user then has to start from the beginning, and any attempt to check the website for previous activity is rendered futile.
Finding the loops; verifying the scheme
The homepage that is receiving the donations is presented in Hebrew. After translating it to English, Dubawa did not find any information-contact details or even details about the organisation’s structure – “about” its previous activities.
Craig Silverman, a former editor of BuzzFeed News, explained that websites with credibility would provide some details about what they do on a dedicated segment because they have nothing to hide.
“Most websites tell you at least a bit about what they are. Whether on a dedicated About page, a description in the footer or somewhere else, this is a good place to check for a website’s credibility.”
“A lack of clear information could be a hint the site was created in haste or is trying to conceal details about its ownership and purpose.”
That is the case with this website.
A check on the authenticity of the website on Trend Micro Check (a website that checks for scams and misinformation) reveals that the website is a scam and is designed to host hoaxes.
Additionally, DUBAWA’s analysis of the website’s URL revealed the existence of more than three domains hosted on the same IP address (220.127.116.11). Some of the foremost DUBAWA traced were:
An alarming fact about these domains is that they were all registered recently, are all seeking donations, have the same colour shade, and all showcased different girls: “Alexandra” and “Ariela.” All the cancer patients seek help and have the same contact email addresses, even though the videos are of different girls from different countries. These email addresses used by the domains are anonymous email addresses, such as email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
An intentional effort was made to redact important traceable details for privacy’s sake. This implies that the information is hidden away because whoever owns the domain did not want people to have access to it. This is not the case with legitimate and transparent websites.
Dubawa’s findings corroborate the results of an analysis carried out on “ScamAdviser”, a reliable online tool that dictates scams and rates the trustworthiness of websites. In the case of the “Netiv-halev” website, the tool details that: “donate.n-halev.org might be a scam. We found several indicators for this. donate.n-halev.org review is somewhat low according to our “Scamadviser” algorithm.”
The company, “Netiv-Halev” provided No. 21 Hoshe’a Street, Jerusalem, Israel, as its address. However, DUBAWA’s findings on Google Maps indicated no registered presence of the company in that location. In fact, other details found about the location reveal the area is entirely for residential houses.
Netiv Halev: The Multifaceted Scam Network
Netiv Halev appears to be a recently created charity-run non-governmental organisation that assists medical patients and their families.
Online searches about the organisation failed to show any relevant results, and neither did searches about their associated organisations, such as the “Brother to Brother organisation” and others. There is also no record of either organisation on websites like Charity Navigator or Charity Watch.
There is no third-party verification apart from the claim that “the organisation has a proper management certificate and a nonprofit registration number: 580566784, which DUBAWA found to be non-existent.
The website has multiple alternatives, with the European version having the highest recognition until Alexandra started trending on African social media spaces.
Noticeably, Alexandra’s video, in particular, was uploaded five months ago on another Israeli platform’s YouTube Channel, Chen Lahaim, which DUBAWA finds to be directly related to Netiv Halev. Here, Chen operates a different program called: “The Chen Lachaim Organisation,” a scheme described to specifically help cancer patients in Palestine.
Further findings also revealed that the scheme has existed for two years, although with different identities. A collection of these links can be seen here, all having the same message template.
Another ominous suspicion is that no further detail was given about any of these children, their medical conditions, families, country of origin, or even their current location, thus casting a wall of doubt on the authenticity of the stories.
To protect the dubious activities over the years, DUBAWA found that opposing comments made on the posts were deleted. If users attempt to report them on any of the social media platforms, their accounts are hacked, and access is denied. DUBAWA also found that the comment section on the YouTube post has been disabled. As a result, users cannot directly raise an alarm for unsuspecting victims to beware.
“I tried to report them on Facebook. The two attempts I made on Facebook were successful, but a week later, my account was hacked, and I couldn’t log into it again,” Esther said.
Also, the comment section on the YouTube post is disabled. As a result, users cannot directly raise an alarm for unsuspecting victims to beware.
DUBAWA’s investigation reveals that a viral video showing a little girl called Alexandra appealing for financial support (and other such videos existing over the years) for her cancer treatment is sponsored to defraud unsuspecting citizens. We traced and found the scheme to be a carefully-planned schema designed by an Israeli-based illegal organisation to guilt-trip users into donating their hard-earned money.