Zimbabwe hoax posts lure users with false claims about financial aid programme

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Posts claiming to help people access relief funding from a programme called GiveDirectly are circulating on Facebook with alleged proof of a payment receipt for the amount of US$1,014. This is false: the links in the posts do not lead anywhere and the screenshot stems from a defunct Covid-19 financial aid scheme. The false information can be traced to Facebook users in Zimbabwe and is part of a larger scam previously debunked by AFP Fact Check.

“If anyone is going through a hard time right now there's a new relief Program that will help you out from Give Directly relief Program (sic),” reads a Facebook post published on August 18, 2022, and shared more than 1,200 times in a neighbourhood watch group.

It includes a screenshot of a digital receipt showing $1,014 paid into a GiveDirectly prepaid card.

A screenshot of the false Facebook post, taken on August 22, 2022

A link in the post encourages people to click and sign up for “instant rewards”. However, the URL leads to a spam web page claiming to offer financial assistance to people who “sign up today”. The page has now been taken down but the original version can still be viewed here.

Different Zimbabwean Facebook accounts shared the same screenshot to community groups in the United States, including the Toombs County Yard Sale group, Niagara County Yard Sale in Sanborn, and Prescott and area sales.

The posts, however, are a hoax.

Pandemic payouts

A reverse image search of the screenshot led to a Forbes article from April 2020 describing how struggling Americans, hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, were receiving financial aid with the assistance of fintech apps and non-profit organisations like GiveDirectly.

A screenshot of the image in the Forbes article, taken on September 28, 2022

At the time, Forbes published an image of the notification now being shared as a screenshot on Facebook.

“To identify qualified recipients quickly, GiveDirectly partnered with Brooklyn fintech startup Propel, whose Fresh EBT app has more than 2 million low-income users,” the article said.

Payments were allocated to those in “the poorest zip codes” and most impacted by coronavirus cases (including New York, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle and New Orleans). The programme, however, ended last year.

GiveDirectly confirmed the Facebook posts bearing the organisation’s name were false.

“This screenshot is from our Project100+ Covid-19 relief programme in the United States that concluded in October 2021,” the organisation’s spokesman Will McDonald told AFP Fact Check. “Eligible low-income Americans across the country were notified and paid through their Providers app (then called 'FreshEBT'), a US government benefits management application.”

A screenshot from the GiveDirectly website

McDonald said GiveDirectly currently operates in 11 countries: DRC, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, USA, and Yemen.

“Our current US programmes are done in partnership with local governments and local organisations are tied to specific geographic locations,” he said.

Recipients are selected using “a systematic and proactive set of criteria that vary from country to country”, meaning an individual from one country cannot apply for assistance from another.

According to the nonprofit’s website, “sometimes scammers impersonate GiveDirectly programs or staff in an attempt to gain financial or personal information”.

A screenshot of the scams warning on the GiveDirectly website

GiveDirectly says it will never directly ask someone for banking or other financial information.

Booming disinformation

The posts resemble many others that have been seeded in community groups all over the US and operated by accounts based in Zimbabwe.

They typically start off by trying to sow alarm with fictitious warnings about criminals targeting individual communities. Once sufficient engagement has been reached, the post is edited with a bogus offer designed to solicit personal information.

Screenshot of the Facebook post’s edit history, taken on August 24, 2022

Facebook’s edit history shows the GiveDirectly post was initially a fake alert about a thief stealing car parts.

In recent months, AFP Fact Check has debunked various posts fitting the same bill, from hoaxes about rattlesnakes in pot plants to false warnings about criminals attacking and abducting people.

A screenshot of an AFP Fact Check debunk