After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused terrible civilian casualties and forced people to flee their homes, people around the world are looking to help out however they can.
For some, that meant booking vacant Ukrainian AirBnb’s that they have no intention of staying in just to help financially support Ukrainian families with some kind of income stream.
But for most people, that means donating money and cryptocurrency to help Ukrainians in need.
When a major crisis like Ukraine causes a surge of charitable donations however, it can also be used by bad actors taking advantage of global goodwill by creating scam charities.
It’s important not to get caught up in the urgency of a situation, and still conduct due diligence to ensure you’re donating to a legitimate organization, according to Paige Hanson, chief of Cyber Safety Education at NortonLifeLock, who has previously created educational videos on identity theft, and digital safety.
“Do research first,” Hanson told Fortune. “Make sure the charity you have in mind has no charges or complaints against them—this can be done by going to a search engine and typing in the organization name with search terms such as ‘complaints,’ ‘review’ or ‘scam.’ If you find results that suggest the charity may be a scam, stay away from it.”
Who to donate to?
If you are looking to donate funds to victims of the Ukraine-Russia war, you can give money to reputable charities directly through their websites. Make sure that those charities are also doing work directly in or around Ukraine, or are working with reputable organizations on the ground.
As a precaution, Norton suggests taking time to cross-check the organization with lists from watchdog groups, such as CharityWatch, CharityNavigator, and the Wise Giving Alliance. Charities that receive “A” ratings are safe.
As an added step to verify the legitimacy of a charity, you can look them up in the IRS’s Tax Exempt Organization Search. Charitable contributions to verified organizations are tax deductible, and donations to individuals are not, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
Some verified nonprofit organizations on the ground in Europe include Global Empowerment Mission, which is in Medyka, Poland, providing housing and relocation assistance to refugees, and World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit organization founded by Spanish chef José Andrés which is giving meals to refugees.
If you do want to donate to a lesser-known Ukrainian charity, make sure to go directly to the organization’s website to make a donation for increased peace of mind.
“Be cautious with clicking,” Hanson told Fortune. “Email is the preferred method of communication by many scammers. Fraudsters are skilled at creating email messages and websites that mimic those of legitimate charities. A click on a fraudulent link could give scammers access to your personal information. Always donate directly through an organization’s website and not through an email link.”
What about giving crypto?
Ukraine has raised more than $54 million from Bitcoin donations, $15 million of which have been spent on military supplies such as bulletproof vests.
Make sure to do some research before you donate to a given charity.
Some well-known charitable organizations accepting crypto include The Giving Block and Ukraine DAO.
What are red flags for fundraising scams?
Donation requests from charities you don’t recognize that claim you are a past contributing member should raise red flags, according to Hanson. This is a tried and true tactic of cyber scammers, who want to deceive altruistic people out of their hard earned money.
“People should also be especially wary of donation requests they receive—in fact, many scammers will try to convince you that you’ve previously given to their organization,” Hanson told Fortune. “If you don’t remember supporting the charity in the past, it’s likely that it’s a fraudulent email. If you have donated to the charity in the past, don’t click any links in the email. Instead, go directly to the charity’s website and donate there.”
How should I donate?
First-time donors often make the mistake of donating with debit cards, which are directly linked to their bank accounts and are therefore considered a more vulnerable payment method. The safest way to make a charitable donation is by credit card, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
Recurring card payments are one of the three main ways that charities collect regular donations from supporters, according to the Charities Aid Foundation.
“Oftentimes, those donating for the first time don’t know to never donate with cash, gift cards, or money wires,” Hanson told Fortune. “Credit cards should be the only way to donate, as they provide a paper trail for an added layer of protection should you need to dispute a charge. If a charity is asking you to pay with anything other than a credit card, it’s likely you’re being scammed.”
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