Fake Ukraine Charity Scams Taking Their Toll

The more emotional the crisis, the more scammers will use it to generate money for themselves. People are basically good and want to help those in need. At such times,they tend to let their emotions guide them. The emotions targeted by scammers in this tsunami of Ukrainian-based phishing emails are sympathy and anger. These are emotions that can easily overpower rational thinking, but, unless you want to throw money away or contribute to enriching a scammer’s lifestyle, take a step back and be as objective as possible. Remember that many of these hackers work for the Russian government and most donators aren’t really going to be happy to learn later that they have contributed to the support of the Russian army.

Here is the most basic example of an email that appeals to a person’s emotions.

The email contains a bitcoin address that will be happy to receive donations. In fact, many of these scam emails seem to be looking for cryptocurrency donations. Some can be quite well-designed and may seem legitimate to a naïve user.

According to cybersecurity firm, Bitdefender, scammers are pretending to be from the Ukrainian government, international humanitarian agency, Act for Peace, UNICEF, the Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund, and Save the Children, among others. The subject lines are as follows or are some variation thereof.

Fake Charity Websites

It may happen that you stumble upon a website purporting to help Ukrainian refugees or Ukraine itself. You may be led to the site via an email link. And the link will look legitimate. Here is a site called, helpukraine.org.

Actually, there is no such site. I just randomly typed a Ukraine-related address into the address bar and was offered the site by WordPress, complete with the template. Other sites have been established but have not yet been deployed, like the following.

Maybe they’ll be a legitimate charity and maybe not. All I know is that there are too many of them to keep up with. It’s an ongoing fight with many fake sites being taken down every day. The better scams also create a Facebook or other social media site to make them look legitimate. Going to a charity verificatio site like Charity Navigator won’t really help because they have not done anything to get an evaluation. In such cases, it is better to pick a more well-known charity site, but not always.

Legitimate charities that are on the edge of illegitimacy

I admit to being more skeptical of charities than most people having worked alongside ‘charity millionaires’ in Afghanistan. I always advise people to check the salary of the management before you give to any charity, even charities that are considered legitimate. The Foundation Group goes so far as to claim that “if you have an employee whose compensation package exceeds $100,000, you should be prepared to defend it.”  That said, and without any criticism of the charity itself, here are some millionaire CEOs of charitable organizations that are asking for donations for Ukraine. This information comes from Charity Watch.

David Miliband
President/CEO
International Rescue Committee
David Harris
CEO
American Jewish Committee (AJC)
Brian Gallagher
Past President/CEO
United Way Worldwide

And here are some other charities listed by other watchdog organizations that have questionable pay scales and who are now seeking donations for Ukraine.

International Planned Parenthood Federation

Save the Children International

The Ambiguous Charity

Charitable organizations are often engaged in a feeding frenzy for donations. Though they may be legitimate charities, they may jump on the current cause celebre to get their piece of the pie. In so doing, they don’t always make it clear where their money is actually going or how it is specifically going to be used. They simply want you to give them money and then, supposedly, they’ll figure out some way to use it.

Look at one organization that everyone has probably heard of and probably considers a legitimate charity, the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Here is how Charity Navigator rates it.

But how is this possible? It seems that this may be because of the way they handle their finances. For one thing, the head of the agency receives a salary of $394,455, and that doesn’t include other benefits. (I’ve seen the UN’s private jets at the Kabul Airport.)

The main page of the UNHCR website is dedicated to getting donations for Ukraine. The suggested donation is $120. But what precisely is this donation going to be used for? According to an article in UN News, when on the ground at the Polish-Ukraine border, the head of the agency claimed that the “UNHCR is supporting coordination of the humanitarian response”. Okay, that’s nice, but how exactly are they doing this? Why did I give $120?  Later in the article we learn that the “UNHCR has provided thermal blankets and mattresses for 6,000 people”. I’m sure they do more than this and it’s up to the donor to decide whether this is how they want their money spent. My point is that even recognized charities need to be looked into before you hand over your hard-earned money.

Basic Tips for Donating

Beware of emails asking for help suddenly appearing in your inbox.

Remain objective. Avoid quick emotional donations. Do your homework. Check the charity out.

Give to those as close to the source of the crisis as possible to cut out payments to middlemen.

If giving to a charity, make sure it is registered.

Crowdfunding may sound good, but you are basically giving money to a stranger. If they have a proven track record and are close to the source of a crisis, they may be legitimate.

Finally, keep in mind that people continue to suffer long after the disaster they’ve been involved with has ceased to interest many donors. Your contribution may be more valued when others are no longer giving.

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