How to spot scams pretending to raise money for Ukraine during war with Russia

ByJason Knowles and Ann Pistone WLS logo
Friday, March 18, 2022
How to spot Ukraine fundraising scammers
The Ukraine-Russia war has prompted was of donations to support Ukrainians, creating a golden opportunity for scammers stealing money and information.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Like many people, you may want to give money to those affected by the war in Ukraine. But there are criminals taking advantage of the invasion to trick you out of your money, be it through a phishing scam or one of thousands of fake social media sites claiming to be fundraising for Ukraine.

Thousands of hacked social media pages have been identified by cybersecurity group Bitdefender.

"We have identified thousands of hacked social media accounts that have been hacked or used for social media accounts that have been specifically set up for fraud," said Director of Threat Research and Reporting Bogdan Botezatu.

They were once legitimate pages before thieves took them over, posting bogus fundraising campaigns claiming to send money to Ukrainians in need.

"You may end up funding who knows what, like work or like terrorism, people trafficking and so on," Botezatu added.

Once the hacker gains control of an innocent person's social media page, they can reach out to that person's friends and start the fake fundraising. So how to tell if your friend is foe? They'll ask you to donate quickly.

"Especially when it comes to digital currency transactions, which are nonrefundable. Once you have sent out the money is gone and you cannot do anything else to get it back," Botezatu warned.

Michael Coleman is raising money for people in Ukraine from his creative services agency in Chicago's River North neighborhood.

He shares fundraisers on social media, but with all the counterfeit campaigns out there he understands why his friends are careful before they give.

"I think people inherently doubt when you ask them for money, right and I think that what gives them reassurance is personal testimony. So there are people who, who I know who feel comfortable because they reached out to me and we've had conversations, I've talked to them on social media," he said. "There are people who don't know me who have heard from friends of mine, right, that what I'm doing is legitimate that they can speak to my character."

Coleman said he personally vetted organizations he shares on social and even video chatted with people in Ukraine. He encourages others to do their homework before they give.

"People can call me, they can reach out on social media, on that Google Doc is all of my personal contact information. I have no skin in the game, but to help the Ukrainian people and so I have nothing but transparency offer," Coleman said.

Before donating online, make sure the website is spelled correctly, look for an https not an http at the beginning of the URL, and look for a .gov or .org at the end to help weed out cloned websites. When in doubt, call the organization you want to donate to.

Also be on the lookout for phishing attempts.

Cybersecurity experts at Chicago's Trustwave said there are myriad phishing emails pretending to raise money for displaced people in Ukraine. If you fall for it, you'd be sending money to scammers; plus they would have your personal information.

"If you look at the maximum upside of damage, yeah, so it opens up a lot of different variables in terms of what they do. You know, leveraging this messaging of preying upon individuals' empathy and support of what we see for fundraising in Ukraine," said Kory Daniels, Chief Information Security Officer at Trustwave.

Phishing links can also shut down your device. Scammers can even take control of your device and demand ransom. If you're looking to help in Ukraine, you can also see if your local municipality, school or church has a donation program. Also check out well known organizations like the Red Cross and UNICEF.

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