Scammers often use current political and other world events to take advantage of people and their good nature, and the current Russia-Ukraine situation will be no exception.
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, various scams were perpetrated against Scottish consumers, ranging in complexity, relating to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), testing, and vaccinations, and evolving to mirror changes such as the emergence of the Delta and Omicron variants of Covid-19.
During this period, scammers even set up websites to look like the official NHS and gov.uk sites and in some instances visited consumers in their own homes.
Scammers approach consumers through various channels, including social media, email, text messages, phone calls, as well as on the doorstep.
Scam Warning in relation to conflict in Ukraine
With the situation escalating further in Ukraine, and increased news reporting on evacuation and other humanitarian efforts, it is highly likely that scammers will take advantage of the situation.
This may include unsolicited contact requesting monetary donations, and personal or banking information from consumers, playing on the emotions of people wanting to help.
consumeradvice.scot, Scotland’s national consumer advice service have put together our predictions for the types of scams that Scottish citizens may find themselves targeted with in the coming weeks and months in relation to conflict in Ukraine.
It is important to remain vigilant when faced with GoFundMe or other donation pages. Whilst many fundraising activities may be legitimate, it is important to ensure we are not lured in by scammers with fake elaborate stories, attempting to appeal to our better nature.
Additionally, scammers may use this opportunity to set up ‘spoof’ websites that emulate the official efforts of registered charities. This involves the creation of websites that may look like the real charity site but are not.
These requests for donations may be for several reasons including, but not limited to –
- Requests for financial assistance for the burial of a loved one / family member
- Requests of support from people claiming to be defending freedom
- Requests for support from someone claiming to be stuck in Ukraine
- Requests for donations for repatriation or support with travel costs
If at all unsure of a fundraising page, or the charitable efforts of an individual, it is sometimes better to donate to charities already registered and providing support to the cause.
GoFundMe Platform Monitoring
GoFundMe has a team of Trust and Safety experts responsible for monitoring the platform around the clock. The team interacts with campaign organisers directly, vetting and verifying the intended use of funds.
Their Trust & Safety team reviews each fundraiser to ensure they are compliant with international laws before a fundraiser can start collecting donations.
This is underpinned by the GoFundMe guarantee. In the rare case that misuse occurs on the platform, anyone who has donated is protected, and can be fully refunded, with the GoFundMe Guarantee.
For more information on the work GoFundMe are doing to ensure that people can donate to fundraisers to support Ukraine safely, please see their blog.
Deepfake Technology scams
If you come across any videos appearing on social media, or through websites like YouTube, it is important to check to ensure they are legitimate.
Technological advances have allowed us to do an array of wonderful things, including editing videos easily and quickly, but on the flip side, this can be used by scammers to assist in the spread of false information, with videos manipulated to seem like the message is coming from an official source.
‘Deepfake’ technology allows video footage to be edited, allowing the appearance of politicians and celebrities to look like they are delivering a specific message, or endorsing certain charitable efforts or causes, when in fact the video images have been manipulated to seem this way.
It is important that we fact-check for false information, and don’t take videos and social media posts at face value.
It is anticipated that the adaptation of familiar scam methods, such as banking scams may be perpetrated by unscrupulous individuals, in the form of requests for transferred sums, or assistance in ‘moving money out of the country’ (Ukraine).
This type of scam requests your assistance in moving funds, but you will usually be charged fees for transferring the amounts, or worse – become implicated in money-laundering activities.
Investment Scams are also a potential risk, and scammers may claim to offer investment opportunities that have only become available due to the current situation. It is important not to be taken in by scammers offering unrealistic opportunities and remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Energy Scams / Price Increases
Don’t be caught out by scammers claiming to offer reduced energy prices, or short-term special offers to enter fixed-rate tariffs because of the current situation. Remember to check with official sources (e.g., energy supplier websites) if an offer for a fixed-rate tariff is made to you. Avoid supplying personal or financial information in these situations, and report suspected scams.
Romance and companionship scams work off the emotional connection that scammers build with their targets. With the situation in Ukraine, scammers may use this as a way of building rapport with contacts they make, falsely saying they need to leave Russia or Ukraine because of the war.
This may include the sharing of messages with photos and / or videos, saying they need money for essentials, or to secure their exit from the country. If someone you have recently started messaging or communicating with asks you for money, this could be a sign that you are being scammed.
It is important to check in on relatives and friends if they have become withdrawn or secretive, particularly about financial matters, and specifically if they have advised of recent romantic involvement.
How can we reduce the risk of being scammed?
Check for tell-tale signs of a scam –
It is important to remain vigilant when accessing websites claiming to be charities. Check web addresses against the official sites, and emails and texts for giveaways. ‘Spoofed’ charity websites and communication can appear like the real deal, but there are often key giveaways –
- Long, convoluted web addresses (with characters that look out of place)
- Unsecure websites (look for the padlock and any warnings thrown up by your browser / anti-virus software about security.
- Spelling errors – genuine organisations / businesses are less likely to have errors on their websites and marketing materials.
- Blurry images / logos / branding – This can be a sign materials have been copied.
Bogus charity collectors may also be operating door-to-door, or in public places. There are steps we can take to ensure we are dealing with genuine charity collectors –
- Request identification from the person that shows they work for the charity.
- Check the charity registration number with the relevant charity regulator (more on this below).
- Check that the person works for the charity by calling the organisation on number(s) obtained through official means (e.g., from the charity regulator’s register, or the charity’s official website).
There are various registers that can be checked to ensure a charity is legitimate:
The Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) website has a search function for checking charities registered in Scotland. For more information, or to search the register, visit www.oscr.org.uk/about-charities/search-the-register/register-search/
Charities registered in England can be checked using the Charity Commission Service, available at www.register-of-charities.charitycommission.gov.uk/charity-search
The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland have a dedicated search facility on their website at www.charitycommissionni.org.uk/charity-search/?pageNumber=1 for charities registered in Northern Ireland.
You should check with the specific charity regulator for the country that a charity claims to be registered in. This can help to reduce the risk of being scammed.
Avoid clicking on links in emails or text messages – These can take you to fraudulent sites but have been known to contain ‘malware’ or ‘malicious software’ in the past. This is software that downloads to devices and can allow the scammer to take control of machines or gather information from them to allow further scams to be perpetrated.
Avoid pressing any buttons requested by unsolicited callers – If you receive a call requesting you to press a button for more information, or to be connected to an operator, do not do this. This can contact you to a premium rate number and run up a large bill.
Don’t transfer large sums of money to people you don’t know – The chances are this could be a scammer, even if they have been messaging you as a romantic / companionship interest.
How can we report scams?
If money has been taken from your bank account, or you have provided personal financial information to someone you believe to be a scammer, you should reach out to your bank in the first instance. They may be able to stop any payments being taken, and your information being used again.
You can also contact Police Scotland on the non-emergency number ‘101’ if you have been scammed out of large sums of money, or on the emergency number ‘999’ if you feel threatened or at immediate risk.
Scottish consumers can report suspected scams and suspicious activity using the Quick Reporting Tool at www.scamwatch.scot.
Alternatively, scams can be reported to specialist advisers through www.consumeradvice.scot, or by calling 0808 164 6000 (Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm).