A video ad doing the rounds on Instagram and YouTube has fleeced victims out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, experts have warned. 

The ‘heart-wrenching’ one-minute clip depicts an eight-year old boy called Semion who pleads in Russian for money to pay for his lung cancer treatment. 

It’s being hosted on a fundraising page that has raised nearly $250,000 (£195,000) in donations from more than 8,600 people.

But cybersecurity research firm Avast says the video is a scam and ‘preys on people’s generosity’ and the innate desire to help others. 

The video is also being hosted on Drove.com, an advertising platform for donations with ‘a very low trust score’, according to Scam Advisor. 

Cybersecurity research firm Avast found the video, which depicts an eight-year old boy called Semion who asks for money to pay for his lung cancer treatment

Cybersecurity research firm Avast found the video, which depicts an eight-year old boy called Semion who asks for money to pay for his lung cancer treatment

It was posted to YouTube on May 17 and has since had more than 2,300 views. 

In the clip, Semion says that his family can’t afford treatment for his cancer, and if he doesn’t receive this treatment within the next two weeks it will be too late to save him. 

‘I appeal to your hearts,’ he pleads. ‘I don’t want to lie in bed and choke.

‘Don’t ignore me. Don’t leave me lying in bed suffering. I am only 8 years old. I didn’t plan to die at eight years old. Lung cancer can advance and slowly take my lungs completely.

‘Then even the ventilator won’t help anymore. Nothing will help me anymore and the cancer will suffocate me.

‘Give me a chance to get the treatment that will save my life.’

The video is in Russian, but there are various versions subtitled in English, French, Spanish and Ukrainian, Avast told MailOnline. 

Already the total amount raised is 246,920 euros ($270,000 or £212,000) – but this is only around a third of its target of more than 750,000 euros.  

People have been leaving sympathetic comments as they give their donations, with one saying: ‘God, please bless this child.’ 

Another said: ‘Believe in God with all your heart.’ 

It’s unclear who is behind the clip, but the organisers of the fundraising page claim to be from World Champions, an organisation in Israel that provides ‘support for children with cancer’.

Another video starring Semion along with his mother has been posted by the World Champions account on Instagram. 

According to Avast researcher Luis Corrons, World Champions is not legit, even if the footage of Semion is. 

‘All evidence gathered by us so far points to be a non-legit organisation,’ he told MailOnline. ‘The website was registered by a Russian particular in December 2022.

‘The campaigns lack specific data about the kids and families they are supposed to help, and on top of that it makes promises for different donation amounts like “we will stop Semion’s suffering” for €520, or “We will not let cancer win!” for €7,900.’ 

Corrons said Semion ‘could be’ a sick child, but the researcher doesn’t think any donations being made will reach the ill. 

The video is also being hosted on Drove.com , an advertising platform for donations with 'a very low trust score', according to Scam Advisor

The video is also being hosted on Drove.com , an advertising platform for donations with ‘a very low trust score’, according to Scam Advisor

‘There are no updates on the [World Champions] page as to how the donations are applied to his treatment, and there are no updates or proof that the donations reach the sick child,’ he said. 

Scam Advisor claims World Champions is a legitimate charity and ‘very likely not a scam’, with a high ‘trust score’ of 92 per cent. 

However, the fundraising page on Drove.com comes complete with bank transfer details for a person called Alufei Olam.

The page says Olam is part of World Champions, although there appears to be no record of him on the charity’s website. 

The 'heart-wrenching' clip links to a fundraising page that has raised nearly $250,000 (£195,000) in donations from more than 8,600 people.

The ‘heart-wrenching’ clip links to a fundraising page that has raised nearly $250,000 (£195,000) in donations from more than 8,600 people.

MailOnline has contacted Instagram owners Meta and Google (which owns YouTube) for comment

MailOnline has contacted Instagram owners Meta and Google (which owns YouTube) for comment

MailOnline has contacted World Champions, Instagram owner Meta and YouTube owner Google for comment. 

Corrons called the video ‘heart-wrenching’ but preys on ‘the human desire to help others’. 

‘When it comes to donating, it’s important to verify the authenticity of the organisation before you transfer money to ensure you’re helping who you think you are,’ he said. 

‘To be safest, directly visit the official websites of trusted organizations to donate instead of responding to calls for donations via emails, videos or social media ads.’

I’m a cybersecurity expert – these are the phone calls you should NEVER answer 

Scam phone calls are an all too common tactic used by fraudsters to trick unsuspecting victims into handing over their personal information. 

But the good news is that there is an easy way to avoid falling victim to crooked cold callers as certain area codes are more likely to be tied to scams than others. 

Scammers previously used a 900 number to target people, as the code is commonly associated with trusted entertainment or informational services such as TV and broadband providers. 

But cybersecurity expert Joseph Steinberg warns that there are now almost 20 other area codes to be on your guard against.

Read more 



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