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Ukraine charity scammers exploiting crisis — how to avoid being robbed

Ukraine flag
(Image credit: VANO SHLAMOV/AFP via Getty Images)

You may want to help Ukraine as it tries to survive the Russian invasion, but don't be taken in by charity scammers, Slovakian antivirus maker ESET warned in a blog post yesterday (Feb. 28).

"ESET researchers have spotted a bevy of websites that solicit money under the guise of charitable purposes," wrote researcher Tomáš Foltýn. "They tend to riff on a similar theme, making emotional but nonetheless fake appeals for solidarity with the people of Ukraine or urging the public to help fund the country's defense efforts."

One scam page blares "THEY NEED OUR HELP" over images of war, adding, "The Ukraine situation is terrible. Donate for support" and noting that it accepts American Express, Apple Pay, MasterCard, PayPal and Visa. 

Another displays the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag and urges readers to "Buy Ukraine Token." It promises that "regular donations and support will be made as well as development for the token and project long term" and that "we are utilizing an experienced crypto project team to insure the best success for our project." A third site just states "STOP WAR IN UKRAINE" alongside a donation button.

Screen grab of a charity scam website featuring the Ukrainian flag and an appeal for Bitcoin donations.

(Image credit: ESET)

If you read between the lines, however, none of these sites promises that anything you donate will actually go to relief agencies aiding Ukraine in any way.

"The websites make very vague claims about how the 'aid' will be used," noted Foltýn. "It should also be obvious — upon closer inspection, anyway — that none of them represents a legitimate organization."

The ESET blog post listed the URLs of what appear to be Ukraine-charity-scam sites, including help-for-ukraine[.]eu, tokenukraine[.]com, supportukraine[.]today, ukrainecharity[.]gives, ukrainesolidarity[.]org, ukraine-solidarity[.]com and saveukraine[.]today. If you land on one of these, click away.

It's not just bogus websites that are after your well-intentioned money, Foltýn added. He cited a Reddit post from late last week that featured an email message claiming to be from a starving Ukrainian widow who asked for Bitcoin to feed her two daughters. You may see similar appeals on social media, Foltýn said.

If you want to donate money to Ukrainian relief, the researcher said, make sure you're dealing with a legitimate organization. Don't click on donation links that come via email, text message or social media, and don't donate cryptocurrency, gift cards or wire transfers. 

Instead, Foltýn said, go to the websites of well-known organizations such as the Red Cross, Save the Children, UNICEF or Doctors Without Borders.  We also have a roundup of how you can help the Ukraine people through donations. 

As for the wider picture of the conflict's affects on the services we know and use every day, Netflix looks poised to push back against the Russian state

Paul Wagenseil is a senior editor at Tom's Guide focused on security and privacy. He has also been a dishwasher, fry cook, long-haul driver, code monkey and video editor. He's been rooting around in the information-security space for more than 15 years at FoxNews.com, SecurityNewsDaily, TechNewsDaily and Tom's Guide, has presented talks at the ShmooCon, DerbyCon and BSides Las Vegas hacker conferences, shown up in random TV news spots and even moderated a panel discussion at the CEDIA home-technology conference. You can follow his rants on Twitter at @snd_wagenseil.