In our age of fake news, there’s an ancient phrase that can help us out. Caveat lector is a Latin phrase meaning ‘reader beware!’ or ‘reader watch out!’. It warns readers to not accept everything in a document at face value. It’s a great device, especially in these days of WhatsApp warriors and Tweetstorms.
Believe it or not?
When it comes to NGOs too, there are several such inaccurate messages doing the rounds. Here is one informing readers that there is a scholarship scheme by PM Modi in the name of APJ Abdul Kalam and ex-PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It claims that deserving students are eligible for scholarship amounts of Rs10,000 and above if they have scored a certain percentage in their exams. It attaches a link – www.desw.gov.in/scholarship, making the whole exercise look legitimate. But when you click on the link, it turns out to be a website of the Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare of the Government of India (nothing to with APJ Abdul Kalam or Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The scholarships mentioned there are only for wards/widows of ex-Servicemen. Even those scholarships are for students in specific programmes or have a limit to the number of scholarships available. These especially tend to do the rounds around the Board exams and admission times, so watch out if you have got any such messages.
The first/best/most ever…
I recently received another forward thanking PM Modi for bringing or supporting the World’s first hospital train in India. Along with the message was a photo of Union Ministers J.P. Nadda and Suresh Prabhu, lending credibility to the forward. Now, it may be that the government has fully supported this initiative. The ministers were indeed inaugurating the special coaches as per several news reports. However, the forward has conveniently left out the name of the NGO – Impact India Foundation – which has been running the Lifeline Express programme in India for over 20 years. Indeed, Minister Suresh Prabhu himself said that the train was a partnership between the Railway Ministry and the NGO Impact India Foundation. We wish the people who had composed this forward had used his words instead.
A dream solution
I myself had fallen for the claims of one rumour a long time ago. It stated that surplus food from parties and weddings would be picked up the NGO CHILDLINE. All one had to do was call the NGO whenever the food needed to be picked up, and the NGO would arrange the rest. I recommended it to an acquaintance who was looking for such an option. He called the NGO, and was told that they did not distribute food at all and had no capacity in that area. I knew that CHILDLINE was a helpline for children in distress across the country. I should have realised that they would not be in the food pickup business also! I’m not alone though. This is such a popular misconception, that CHILDLINE even has a permanent disclaimer on their website:
Protect yourself – with information
We don’t know the intentions of people sending such messages. But it is very easy to build trust by claiming that a particular scheme is associated with a PM or CM when it may be nothing of the sort. Fraudsters will also use information in exactly this way to convince you that they are legitimate, particularly when they are asking for money for NGOs. Also, fake news looks a lot like accurate information. It is likely to resemble regular updates or news that you read without drawing your suspicion. Don’t fall for bogus claims, and make sure to do your own fact checking first. Here are a few tips:
- No free lunches! If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. NGOs do provide services to people in need, but it is always limited by their budgets. Take a look at an NGO’s income sources, corpus balance and earmarked funds to get a good idea of the organisation’s actual financial position. They may receive grants from the government, but these are always time-bound and have certain conditions attached. This also has to be accounted for when they file their annual returns. The next time someone tells you so-and-so NGO is offering scholarships without any conditions, check their income and see if this tall claim can hold any water at all. You can check out the income and expense figures of 650+ Indian NGOs on our website www.HelpYourNGO.com.
- Check links that you receive: It’s the easiest way to verify false information. Don’t click on the link directly as it could be dangerous, but type the link yourself into a secure browser. Don’t forward the message if you find it to be false.
- Check programme information: NGOs operate programmes in certain areas – health, empowerment, education etc. HelpYourNGO has detailed programme information on the NGOs on our website. It tells you what issue the NGO addresses, and what their main programmes are. An NGO working in Comprehensive Empowerment or Development is not going to ask you for money for cancer care. If you are going to be donating to an NGO at all, make sure you know what the NGO does before donating. Here is a sample of K.C. Mahindra Education Trust’s (popularly known as Nanhi Kali) work.
Don’t let false information lead you to a wrong decision. As we like to say, evaluate, then donate, and you will be satisfied.