An online charity programme that matches money donors with poor children born on the donors' birthdays blamed human error after pictures of some youngsters appeared in multiple profiles, raising suspicions among netizens.
The platform, called We Share a Birthday, is a collaboration between 0fenbei.com and the Aiyou Future Foundation that began appearing on WeChat on Friday.
According to the organizers, the project had raised 440,000 yuan (S$90,296) by 1pm on Saturday, with most donors contributing 1 yuan to the child with whom they were matched.
Tang Aike, 28, who works in public relations for a Beijing company, was among those who donated after seeing a notice posted on a friend's WeChat Moments feed.
As instructed by the website, he entered his date of birth and was instantly matched with Yin Yue, whose profile said he was a student in Yunnan province and had the same birthday.
Tang made his donation and then hit the tab on the website to share the news on his own WeChat Moments, accompanied by a photo of the boy and his birthday.
"However, a friend of mine soon sent me the photo of the boy the programme had matched him with. It was Yin Yue," Tang recounted. "Only the birthday and his nickname were different. It felt like I'd been fooled."
Many people reported the same experience on social media and complained that their goodwill had been abused. They also questioned whether their donations would be misused.
Wang Li, founder and CEO of 0fenbei.com, a poverty alleviation website based in Beijing, took to social media on Saturday to allay people's fears and said the mix-up was the result of human error.
The charity programme was supposed to be launched on Sunday, he said, but staff members had mistakenly shared a trial version on Friday that did not contain the information for all the children.
The database of the programme should contain the information and photos of 366 children from Yunnan, Wang said. All the children are indeed living in poverty, and their parents agreed that the charity programme could use their pictures, he added.
However, when the company began receiving complaints, it realised its mistake, he said. He added that the programme had spread much faster than expected.
Donations will first go into an account set up by Aiyou Future Foundation and then be distributed to the children every three months, according to a statement from programme administrators on Saturday.
The foundation, which is based in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, also organised an online sale of art by people with learning difficulties in August to raise funds for people with disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome.
But Tang said after his experience he will definitely think twice before donating to an online charity programme again. "What happened maybe was a mistake, but it has cost people's trust," he said.