Scammers are looking to cash in on the charitable giving surrounding the events of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, cybersecurity companies and consumer experts have warned.
They suggest two things before donating to help: Watch out for the fakers, and take time to research legitimate charities and causes.
THIS IS A SCAM. Do not send donations earmarked for Ukraine to unknown sources. Report any request for donations that appear to be fraudulent or suspicious. The minute I advised the account I was reporting - they blocked me. pic.twitter.com/EBaPAYNKid
— ᒪᗩᑎᑕᗴ 🏳️🌈 (@LanceUSA70) February 28, 2022
While social media has made information gathering and connecting a lot easier, it’s also a gateway for cyber thieves to reach victims. The criminals are now hopping on the bitcoin wave and asking for it on platforms like Twitter.
Avast, a worldwide cybersecurity company, released a blog post warning users to watch out for these crypto scams.
“As cyber criminals seek to take advantage of the chaos, we have tracked in the last 48 hours a number of scammers who are tricking people out of money by pretending they are Ukrainians in desperate need of financial help,” wrote Michal Salát, an expert on threat intelligence.
“In the past, we have seen similar scams for people stuck while traveling or looking for love. Unfortunately, these attackers do not operate ethically and will use any opportunity to get money out of people willing to help others in need.”
Salát said that what makes a post suspicious is the immediate mention of bitcoin, especially coming from odd usernames that consist of numbers and letters. Reports of scams have surfaced on other platforms as well, including TikTok and Instagram.
But scammers are also using more traditional methods, like email and websites, to reach potential victims.
Tomáš Foltýn with WeLiveSecurity said its researchers have unearthed a “bevy of websites” that are asking for money for charitable purposes but are fraudulent.
“The websites make very vague claims about how the ‘aid’ will be used. It should also be obvious — upon closer inspection, anyway — that none of them represents a legitimate organization,” Foltýn wrote on a website post. “Also, stay alert for emotional pleas for help that may land in your email.”
Appeals for money typically use specific language and range from heartbreaking to threatening. As curated by several experts, some statements to watch out for include: “Help, I’m stuck here,” “I have money, lots of money” (someone claiming they need to transfer money and need your help to do it, which includes transfer fees), “I need to give my loved one a proper burial” and “I love you” (tapping in to common romance scams).
Crime prevention expert Rania Mankarious, who wrote “The Online World, What You Think You Know and What You Don’t,” told Yahoo News she’s been monitoring and trying to help combat scams involving Ukraine.
“With nearly 1 million Ukrainians in the U.S. and social media accounts pulling at our heartstrings, generous Americans want to give and do their part,” she said. “But how do we make sure that our hard-earned dollars are going where they should?”
She added, “Fight the pressure. Don’t give in to sales calls or solicitations for donations that require you to ‘act immediately.’”
When planning to give, here are some ways to avoid being scammed, according to advice from Mankarious, the Better Business Bureau and Avast:
1. Stick to well-known organizations that have strong credibility.
2. Ask what percentage of your donation will go to relief efforts.
3. While it doesn't necessarily reveal a scam, research an organization’s current presence in Ukraine because “not all relief organizations will be able to provide timely assistance unless they already have a presence in Ukraine,” the BBB warns.
4. Be cautious of requests to wire money, send gift cards or transfer through PayPal — charities don’t normally request those payment methods.
5. Be wary of social media posts promoting a charity or an individual needing money. Take time to flesh out their authenticity.
6. Watch out for messages or links, even from credible-looking organizations. Call or email them to further verify that they are legitimate.
7. Here's a current list of BBB-accredited charities working on Ukraine relief: