Checklist 269: Ukraine, Your Loved Ones, and You
On this week’s Checklist:
- How to find legit Ukraine relief charities
- Ukraine relief charity scams
- Protecting your loved ones from gift card scams
Finding legitimate Ukraine relief charities
We’re going to be talking about Ukraine relief charity scams — and how to avoid them — based on some information provided by the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
But we want to share the most important links first. These are organizations providing relief to people in Ukraine: organizations that have already been vetted by the BBB. According to the BBB, these organizations are both trustworthy and also have a high likelihood of being able to get donations to people in Ukraine. For each one, we’ll include a link to the charity as well as the BBB Wise Giving Alliance Report on the org:
- Catholic Relief Services and BBB report
- GlobalGiving and BBB report
- International Rescue Committee and BBB report
- Save the Children and BBB report
You can also visit the BBB Standards for Charity Accountability website for more information.
Ukraine relief charity scams
So why are we talking about charity relief scams this week?
Because bad guys are … bad. They love to take advantage of a tragedy.
Russia’s invasion of its neighbor has galvanized the majority of the world’s people in support of Ukraine. And with public sympathy running high for the suffering people in that country, scammers have pounced.
According to a report from CNBC, scammers are using fraudulent phone calls, emails, banner ads, and texts to ask for “donations”. The money is supposed to be for people in Ukraine. But in fact, it’s destined for the bank accounts of cybercriminals.
So what do you do if you want to help? Well, one option is to donate to a pre-vetted charity like the ones listed above. But there are also some basic best practices that can help you avoid donation scams:
- Don’t click on links and attachments that come in unsolicited emails or texts.
- Be wary of appeals for aid that pressure you to make a snap decision. Creating a sense of emotional urgency is a common tactic used by scammers.
- Pay with credit cards instead of debit cards, since these can protect you if you’re a victim of fraud.
- Never donate using gift cards or wire transfers.
How to vet a charity
In addition, if you’re thinking about making a donation to a charity, do some due diligence on the organization before sending them money. Here are some questions to ask yourself before giving:
Does the charity appeal make unreasonable or exaggerated claims? All organizations have at least some overhead, so if they’re telling you that 100% of donations are spent on relief, they’re being misleading in their communications.
If it’s a crowdfunding appeal, do you personally know the person running it? If it’s your sister or the pastor at your church, that’s relatively safe. But if it’s someone you’ve never met, the risk is higher. And if it’s some rando from TikTok with a Venmo account, find a better way to give!
Does the charity have a good chance of getting help to people who need it? For example, if an organization has no presence or operating history in Ukraine, it may be hard for them to make sure your donation reaches those in need quickly.
Does the charity have experience doing the kind of work they’re trying to do? An experienced disaster relief charity, for example, will know how to get money and supplies to people in a war zone. An environmental non-profit, on the other hand, might genuinely want to help, and have the best of intentions, but they may lack the know-how to get the job done.
Gift card scams and your loved ones
According to research by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), gift card scams cost Americans over $148 million in the first three quarters of 2021. These scams affected over 40,000 people.
So how do scammers convince people to pay them with gift cards?
Well, according to the FTC, it’s often done by phone. A phone scammer tells the victim that they owe money for some reason. Perhaps they’ll say it’s a late bill, or maybe overdue taxes. They tell the person that they can pay with a gift card, and say that they’ll wait on the line while they go out and buy one! If the victim complies, the scammers get them to read off the number on the back of the gift card, which gives the bad guys access to the card balance.
Gift cards may seem like an odd choice for scammers, but it actually makes sense when you think about it. As one grocery chain notes on their website:
[Gift cards for] certain brands and retailers are favored by scam artists for a variety of reasons. It may be because the store sells high-value items – such as electronics or technology – which the scammer would be able to resell for a large profit. This is the case for shops like Target, eBay and Walmart. In the case of Google Play and other online platforms, it is easy for the scammers to sell the gift card code in an online marketplace and disguise their stolen product among standard discounted gift cards.
Gift card scam pretexts
So what are the common reasons that scammers give to explain why the victim should rush out and buy a gift card? Here’s a few of the more common scenarios, according to the FTC:
- Scammers pretend to be a tech support group calling to fix a problem with your computer.
- Romance scammers often ask for money via gift card.
- Scammers say they’re a friend or a family member having an emergency. Note that this may happen after a friend or relative’s actual social media profile is hacked. If you receive an urgent request for help via Facebook, and your “uncle” is asking you to send gift cards, beware!
- Some scammers pretend to be from a water or power company, and say that an overdue bill will result in termination of service if you don’t pay immediately.
- Prize or sweepstakes scams sometimes rely on gift cards. The scammers will tell you that you’ve won something, but that you first have to pay a small service or delivery fee by gift card.
- Government or law enforcement scams often involve gift cards. The scammer will tell you that they’re from the IRS, the police, the U.S. Marshals, etc. They’ll say that you owe a tax or a fine, but that you can pay via gift card.
Helping others stay safe
If you’re a regular listener of this show, some of these pretexts might seem pretty far-fetched to you. Does anyone really believe that the IRS takes Target gift cards? Or that the federal government will let you buy your way out of jail time?
But you have to remember one thing: If you’re listening to a cybersecurity podcast, you’re not typical. There are plenty of people out there who are just not very cyber-savvy — and they’re exactly the type of victims that these scammers are looking for.
So the real question: If you have someone like that in your life, how can you help keep them safe?
The answer here is actually pretty simple: Talk to them. Take a moment this week to tell them you’ve heard that there are a lot of gift card scams going around. Make sure they know that the government, utility companies, and other big organizations won’t ask for payment in gift cards … ever!
The other thing you can do is help the authorities to track down and stop the scammers. If you get an obvious scam call or email, don’t just hang up or hit delete. Take a second to report it.
Here’s some information from the FTC about how to report fraud to a gift card issuer. To report fraud directly to the FTC, go to ReportFraud.ftc.gov. And for a good overview of different types of gift card scams — as well as a short video intro to the subject — hit up ftc.gov/giftcards.