During this tragic time, many of us are trying to donate to those affected by the war in Ukraine. Unfortunately, online scammers are taking advantage of our goodwill and creating fake charities to trick us into giving them our money instead.
“Legitimate charities – those whose fundraisers pass through most of the donations to the actual cause – need support. They, just like you, lose out when a criminal intervenes.” (Source: AARP)
ESET researchers have identified thousands of fake social media accounts and websites out there that claim to be collecting money to help Ukraine.
“They tend to riff on a similar theme, making emotional but nonetheless fake appeals for solidarity with the people of Ukraine or urging the public to help fund the country’s defense efforts… 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. (Source: ESET)
Some fake Ukrainian charity websites that ESET has identified:
Fake Email Pleas for Charity
In addition to fake websites and social media accounts, there have also been scam reports through email of individuals claiming to be in need of monetary help due to the war.
A Reddit user has shared one such fake emotional plea (see below).
How to avoid charity fraud
If you’re looking to donate during this time, here’re a few tips for how to do it safely:
Do your research.
Make sure the organization you want to donate to is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
Beware of “charities” that use names similar to existing charities to legitimize themselves.
Check carefully before giving – you’re best off sticking to well-known organizations that have a history of work in the field and have some presence or partners in Ukraine.
Be wary of all messages even from trusted sources unless you verify that the message is authentic. To do this, contact said source by other means than the one by which you received it, e.g., by googling the official phone number or email, etc.
Be skeptical & Never act quickly.
The pressure to act quickly is a red flag; a real charity will take your donation when you are ready to provide it.
Don’t give in to undue pressure – fraudsters will attempt to use the urgency of the situation to rush you into donating.
Be skeptical of social media posts that promote a charity unless you verify that the organization is legitimate. The friend recommending it may not have done their research and the number of likes for a social media post doesn’t say much about its legitimacy, either.
Avoid clicking on links or downloading attachments in unsolicited emails or social media messages, particularly from unknown sources and those that add to the sense of alarm. They may attempt to lure you into unwittingly downloading malware onto your device.
Type of payment is important.
Be wary of requests to wire money or send gift cards. Established charities don’t normally request this kind of ‘donation’.
Less common forms of payment are also a red flag, though criminals may seek checks, cash or credit card payments as well. (Always opt for a credit card, which carries greater consumer protections than other payment forms.)
Donate your money via the organization’s website or approach the charity directly for guidance.