Cybercriminals are opportunistic, as is often the case. They are quick to take advantage of global hotspots to create hoaxes that allow them to capitalize on mass attention; most recently, this has been relatively common with the war in Ukraine.
Recently, several private security organizations, police agencies, and NGOs have confirmed detecting an increase of malicious campaigns that rely on social engineering and phishing attacks that seek to make money using Russia’s war against Ukraine.
So, here’s what you need to know before you make charitable donations to help refugees and aid organizations.
Be Careful With Online Donations
Many scammers are taking advantage of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia to profit from people’s charities and ask for money. Some do it by impersonating the members of some famous NGOs or simply by starting their fake charity.
The Red Cross, for example, has warned people to be wary of scams on its social networks. Scammers have been posing as members of the Red Cross to call homes and individuals to ask for money for Ukraine using social engineering.
Cybercriminals have also been quick to set up fake websites to launch cyberattacks and scams. This is based on the growing number of recently registered domains that include the word “Ukraine,” which has been significant and reflects the number of fake sites circulating at the moment.
For example, one site allegedly seeks to promote a new cryptocurrency token to help the country in this war. There is also an organization called “Help for Ukraine,” in which cybercriminals pose as a humanitarian aid organization that supposedly raises funds to help. The “Help for Ukraine” site invites alleged donations of 5 euros through PayPal.
It is important to note that even though many sites seeking charity are fake, you can still find several organizations and individuals that are legitimately helping Ukraine with cryptocurrencies.
Since the pandemic started, we have seen cybercriminals launching more and more sophisticated phishing campaigns of all kinds and colors to steal sensitive information or get money. Some of the most popular are on social networks.
On Reddit, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp, hundreds, if not thousands of users have shared details of fake charities or individuals impersonating Ukrainians in distress asking for help. Never donate money through social networks or to people who contact you directly to avoid these accounts.
An essential tip to remember is that if the reports show very few followers and only have one video or photo upload, it’s probably a scam. Also, users who ask for money on social networks but make vague statements about how the donations will be used can be considered scams.
Also, keep an eye out for emotional pleas for help that may come to your email. Generally speaking, it can be difficult to verify information in the age of joint account takeovers and ongoing cyberattacks against Ukrainian targets. While social networking sites often play an essential role in spreading the word about a charitable cause in times of disaster, they are also fertile ground for fraud.
Lastly, if you want to help an individual you personally know in Ukraine, PayPal has made it easy to send money directly to Ukraine. This is not only safer but will also ensure that your money is used by people who need it.
What Other Precautions Can You Take Before Donating?
We have one recommendation for all users interested in taking action. Remember to never make donations to an organization without first investigating and verifying that it is a reliable and verified organization.
The Red Cross, for example, is reminding everyone through its social media that they only offer to accept donations for Ukrainians on their official channels and that they will never ask for cash from homes for any cause.
The Red Cross is one of the best-known charities, but there are thousands of legitimate organizations, and not all follow the same policies, making it hard for you to distinguish them from scams. Unfortunately, this trend is expected to continue and include the distribution of malware or disinformation campaigns through phishing attacks, social engineering, and even fake news for you to click. So, users and companies should be vigilant and always suspicious.
You need to keep in mind several things to ensure that your donation reaches those in need.
- If you donate money to a microfinance platform, it is safest to give it to someone you personally know and trust. You should also review the platform’s policies regarding fees and distribution of funds raised.
- If there is a crowdfunding request from a charity, check out the crowd by visiting Give.org. You can verify a charity’s trustworthiness by viewing a BBB Wise Giving Alliance report.
- When selecting a charity, make sure it is one that already has a presence in Ukraine. Not all aid organizations are in a position to provide help quickly, so it is best to choose a charity that is already working in the country.
- Charities have administrative and fundraising costs. Any charity that claims otherwise is potentially misleading those who are donating.
What Crowdfunding Sites Can You Trust?
There are many ways you can help Ukraine apart from with donations. You can help Ukrainians by supporting the local economy; for example, there are several apps you can download made by Ukrainians. This is safe and allows a business to grow and potentially employ more people from Ukraine, thereby helping them and giving them a livelihood.
Now, if your heart is set on donating to NGOs but are still worried about encountering a fake charity, you can’t go wrong with the following sites:
These organizations are currently deploying aid and personnel in Ukraine and the region. Yet, if you are interested in donating to a less mainstream NGO or an organization focused on a particular issue, you can also check out Charity Navigator. It is a well-trusted source that will provide you with a direct link to all trusted charities in different fields of aid.
So, Is It Safe to Donate Online to Ukraine?
Despite cybercriminals becoming more and more sophisticated when launching scams, it is still safe to donate money online, but only to trusted organizations or individuals you personally know.
If you are unsure about the authenticity of an NGO looking for donations, follow the steps above, and it should become pretty evident upon closer inspection if a cause is legitimate or a scam.
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