Giving away millions should be one of the easiest things in the world to do, but for one company, the opposite is becoming a reality.
Non-profit organizations competing in the current Chase Community Giving contest on Facebook are making claims that fraudulent third party companies are creating fake accounts to vote for organizations for a cut of the prize money - the exact same claims that have plagued the contest since its inception two years ago.
The contest centers around having non-profit organizations make a pitch for a program or initiative and solicit votes on Facebook through the Chase Community Giving app, with the top organizations receiving up to $250,000 for gathering the most votes.
It has been alleged that third party companies have entered into agreements with several organizations and boosted their voting numbers by creating thousands of fake accounts and casting votes in their favor for an upfront fee, or 25 per cent of the prize amount.
In 2009, the New York Times reported that the same contest disqualified three groups who were in the running for cash prizes allegedly after contest organizers did not agree with the groups mandates on moral grounds. With only days left in the contest, organizers removed the entire tally of votes for all organizations and awarded prizes without disclosing the final counts.
One organization in the top ten has already been penalized by officials of the 2011 Chase Community Giving contest for robo-voting and lost nearly 2500 votes, dropping from second place down into ninth.
The first organization noted to have an alleged influx of voting from fake Facebook accounts owned by third party companies was Community Animal Rescue & Adoption (CARA), who after numerous complaints were made by other contestants, were penalized and had votes removed from their tally.
Before the alleged robo-voting by third parties working with CARA, the organization was sitting in thirteenth place and in one day rose rapidly into second place with votes coming from Facebook accounts using identical photographs and slight variations of names.
These dummy accounts had zero to little other activity in their profiles other than having joined the Chase Community Giving Facebook page, and having joined pages for PayPal and a fan page for a European publication called DJ Mag.
Contestants allege that DJ Mag has inserted itself into the competition by offering robo-voting services to contestants and hiring their own small army of robo-voters who are paid 25 cents per vote they cast in favor of the agreed upon organization - in order to receive payment these voters must be fans of DJ Mag Facebook page.
Freelance reporter Jeromie Williams of Montreal received exclusive evidence and testimony today from Inverness, Mississippi resident Robert Rowland who blew the whistle on the alleged robo-voting by CARA.
Rowland produced images of hundreds of fake accounts that had been allegedly solicited to vote for the CARA organization, and has self identified himself as the individual responsible for bringing the charges to contest officials.
"I first noticed that CARA was in 18th place and after jumping into 13th place they jumped over night into a 3rd place position. I didn't understand how they got that close to first place until an IT expert I spoke to told me they had most likely hired a robo-vote company. I was immediately angry and knew they were trying to win the $250,000, not for the animals, but to pad their pockets," said Rowland in regards to his reaction to the rise of the CARA organization.
The profiles made visible through the Chase Community Giving app on Facebook that were attributed to having raised CARA into the top of the contest leaderboard were screencaptured and saved into numerous files showing that the accounts used identical pictures and slight variations of names. These profiles then voted in rapid succession for their target organization.
Once Robert Rowland and others made the information available to the contest organizers, CARA lost approximately 2,500 votes, and that information was then passed over to local authorities and an investigation has reportedly been opened by the District Attorney in their area.
Emails asking for comment from the board of directors for CARA went unanswered, and when approached for comment on their Facebook page, members of the CARA organization threatened legal action for defamation of character.
Several other organizations competing in the contest such as United Sikhs from New York, New York and Vittana from Seattle, Washington have also begun displaying the same symptoms of robo-voting that landed CARA in hot water with contest organizers.
United Sikhs stands to win the grand prize of $250,000 while Vittana stands to walk away with $100,000 after both shot into the top three. Questions still remain about the validity of Vittana's eligibility, given that Randi Zuckerberg, direct relation to Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, is still listed on the Vittana website as a member of the advisory board for the organization.
The director of one animal shelter competing in the contest spoke on the agreement of anonymity for fear of retribution by organizers of the Chase Community Giving Contest but made it clear that "all the competitors in the competition who are now eligible to receive a cash prize need to have their votes gone over by a third party source and all instances of robo-voting need to be identified and their votes disqualified before any prizes are given out."
Voting for the contest ends on November 22, 2011.
An email to the media department connected to the Chase Community Giving contest was not answered by the time this article went to print.
Update - As of 11/21/11 at 12PM EST the Vittana organization has had approximately 8,000 votes removed from their tally and have dropped from 3rd place to 29th place. Chase Community Giving contest organizers have not returned requests for information regarding the robo-voting claims.