Aid diverted from over 1,700 families in extreme poverty, says aid group
A US-based charity group says about $900,000 was stolen from its programs in the Democratic Republic of Congo after some of its members conspired with outsiders.
In information posted on its website, GiveDirectly said it discovered the fraud in January this year and immediately paused the operations to prevent further losses.
“While our investigation is ongoing, we currently calculate around $900,000 was stolen from one of our DRC programs over six months, diverting aid from over 1,700 families in extreme poverty,” the organization wrote.
The defrauding is said to have started in August 2022.
Roughly 1% of the money delivered last year was lost to fraud, the highest amount to date, GiveDirectly said.
It expressed deep regret for not “catching this sooner and taking seriously the vulnerabilities it exposed.”
It said the fraud was made possible following a specific change the organization made in its payment process in order to work in the remote insecure region of DR Congo.
GiveDirectly said an ongoing investigation led to the recovery of “a very small portion of the lost funds” but feared a big chunk of the money would likely not be recovered.
It said it is working to ensure that families affected by the fraud get their money.
In late August 2022, the group began to send cash transfers to registered SIM cards, many of which were in the possession of the GiveDirectly staff.
“We currently have no reason to suspect that this fraud extends beyond our Eastern DRC programs and are reviewing our procedures across the organization.”
Globally, the group says it has delivered $670 million to people in more than a dozen countries, mainly in Africa, since 2011.
Since 2018, GiveDirectly has delivered $16 million to 69,000 people across four provinces of DR Congo.
It sends aid through mobile money, a popular technology used to send and receive cash using a SIM card, apparently to avoid various methods of fraud.
Once the money is sent, people can withdraw the cash at a mobile money agent.
Instead of people registering with independent mobile agents, the group reportedly used its own enrollment team, thereby creating a loophole which led to fraud.
Eastern Congo remains volatile with 5.7 million people internally displaced amid food insecurity, according to the UN.