In Depth

Was touching story of homeless ‘Charlie Binbags’ a fundraising scam?

Charity says Charlie Hennessy probably never really existed

A homeless man sent money by strangers after his story went viral on Twitter is probably the figment of a scammer’s imagination, a homeless charity has earned.

“I’m #homeless, not evil,” said a tweet allegedly posted by Charlie Hennessy, known as @CharlieBinbags, who said he had joined the microblogging site after being given a second-hand phone.

“I’m not stupid or on drugs or violent or dishonest or crazy or greedy or diseased or drunk or likely to kill you,” he wrote. “I’m a nice guy. I just don’t currently have a home. That’s all it is.”

The tweet was liked around 29,000 times and messages were sent to Hennessy, who claimed to have made his way from Croydon to Brighton.

“People have helped me in ways I never imagined,” he tweeted. “Food, money, love, support. Tomorrow I have a job interview.”

In the following days, Hennessy was “inundated with offers of help, including from Streets Kitchen, a group that runs outreach services and food kitchens for homeless people in the UK and Ireland”, The Times reports.

Amid mounting media requests, Streets Kitchen felt under pressure to vouch for him, and began its own investigation - which unearthed some troubling inconsistencies in his claims.

In a post detailing its “concerns”, the charity said it had found Hennessy somewhere to eat, but he declined, and then offered to pay for his train ticket to Brighton, but he refused to meet anyone to collect it and said he would walk to Brighton instead (a 14-hour journey).

“He has refused all direct offers of help from us (a well-established and trusted grass-roots organisation) and others, whilst accepting a lot of financial assistance from strangers,” the statement said.

The charity discovered that he was accepting donations through three different PayPal accounts, while the picture originally used in his Twitter and PayPal profile was actually a screengrab of another Twitter user based in Florida.

Street Kitchen said it had discovered and reported several suspicious Twitter accounts that appear to be so-called “sock puppets” connected to @CharlieBinbags, “used to support and lend credibility to his own”.

The charity has shared its findings with ActionFraud, the UK fraud reporting service, and says it wants to “lay out the things that set alarm bells ringing for us”.

In an article for Vice News, journalist Bob Trafford describes how he spoke to Hennessy via private messages on Twitter before the account was deleted. After asking “Charlie to comment for a final time... he re-stated his story of being homeless and having his life transformed by the kindness of strangers”, Trafford says.

“You can’t disprove the truth,” Hennessy reportedly told him.

Streets Kitchen’s Thomas Wenn told Trafford that he was surprised at “how rife the internet is with fake fundraisers”.

“The characters created in these fundraising scams piggyback off the helpless, lonely and vulnerable. They seek out the best in people, for their own gain,” Wenn said. “Do your research before sending money online, and remember, sometimes, your time is more valuable than your money.”

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