Why you should avoid the Secret Santa charity initiative
Our readers asked us to check out the volunteer project Secret St.
Nicholas, which recently appeared on social media. The goal of the
project is to send New Year’s greetings to children of Ukrainian soldiers,
children in the liberated territories, and children who have lost their
At first glance, the initiative looks simple and honourable: you go to a
website where parents of children from the fore-mentioned categories
can register their kids, indicating the child’s name, age and city, as well
as the gift they would like to receive. As for the benefactors, they can
choose a questionnaire and send the child a gift, which the child or the
parents specified on the platform.
When it comes to children, especially in wartime, people often forget to
think critically and logically. And scammers use people’s desire to help
advance their schemes.
We can’t say for sure that the Secret St. Nicholas initiative is a scam.
Perhaps its founders had a noble goal in mind. However, either out of
naivety or malice, they created a scam platform. Therefore, we advise
our readers to avoid this project.
Title image: New Year’s miracle /
Behind the news /
About the project Information for parents /
Select your child / Give a child a gift on St. Nicholas Day or New Year’s Eve. /
I take nobody’s word for it /
Number of registered children 4058 /
Reserved and waiting for the gift 751
We’ll tell you why:
1) The charitable foundation? called Centre - West volunteer group,
which developed the Secret St. Nicholas initiative, was established only
a month ago. In the Youcontrol analytical system, the foundation’s legal
address (21 Sichovykh Striltsiv Str., office 501, Kyiv) is registered
together with... 317 other different types of companies. Therefore, it
serves as a so-called legal address for mass registration. Such a
concept is not fixed by law, but it’s an open secret. Of course, the fact
that you can purchase a legal address and that there are no office
premises doesn’t mean it’s a scam. Moreover, in recent years, even the
tax authorities have filed no claims against companies registered at
mass addresses and they don’t verify the locations.
However, a serious, legitimate foundation should have a feedback
platform. Not only should it indicate where to donate money, but it
should also provide valid phone numbers, a physical/legal address, and
links to official social media accounts. The Secret St. Nicholas website
doesn’t have this information, nor does the foundation’s Facebook page
(which was created on December 8). There’s only an e-mail address.
We were able to find the phone number and office address through the
following analytical systems: Youcontrol and Opendatabot.
In addition, the website should offer information about the foundation’s
management, team, financial reports, and official bank account. For the
New Year’s Miracle, the Secret St. Nicholas site gives you a link to
Monobank only. The cardholder, Yuliya Sh., receives the funds. The
user called Yuliya Shatilo responds to comments on the foundation’s
Facebook page, but it’s not clear what position she holds at the
foundation. Only the name of the official representative of this foundation - Volodymyr Kvashuk - can be found in the state register;
he’s the chairman and sole founder.
2) Children of military personnel? How do you know that a child
registered on the site is really the child of a soldier or the child of an
internally displaced person, who actually needs assistance? There’s no
way to do just that. And, that’s the drawback; there’s no way to verify
that the child on the website really exists. When registering a child on
the platform, you need to provide only the name, patronymic and
surname, and phone number of the person who will receive the parcel.
Therefore, it’s impossible to know whether a 14-year-old teenager,
whose device was stolen by the occupiers at a checkpoint, will actually
receive a laptop for studying. It was possible to register children until
midnight, December 15, and it appears that adults could sign up children
and not be their parents or relatives, or maybe they had no children, but
could still ask for a gift. Why are we so sure that no one checks the
data? We’ve saved this information for last.
3) Personal data? To become a Secret St. Nicholas, you need to select
a child that you’d like to help, fill in the form below the gift, and send your
e-mail and phone number.
We decided to become “benefactors”, and it turned out that no one
verified our data either. We filled in forms for several children, specifying
an e-mail address and a fake phone number created for such cases. We
immediately received the name, patronymic and surname, as well as the
phone number of the person who would receive the parcel, and the
child’s name and age, and their wishes. Let’s imagine that relatives of
military personnel or IDPs actually registered on the website. Where is
the guarantee that this personal data won’t fall into the wrong hands?
For example, a russian may be hiding behind the e-mail address of a supposed benefactor, and will then proceed to write or call the relatives
of our soldier.
Furthermore, scammers can also collect this data. Of course, e-mails
and phone numbers aren’t much, but it’s better than nothing…
especially if the e-mail authorization is linked to the phone number on
the subscription, which in Ukraine can be easily “restored” at a service
centre. For example, an e-mail address, a phone number, and a Nova
Poshta branch were enough to organize a fraudulent scheme involving
cash-on-delivery parcels that hadn’t been ordered. When the recipients
contacted Nova Poshta to pick up the parcel, they were told that they
had received a “gift certificate”, but needed to pay for the delivery, as
well as for the goods and the fund transfer service. Since the sum
amounted to less than 200 hryvnias, some people agreed to pay. The
“gift” was some plastic “costume jewellery” and a certificate from a store
that didn’t exist. https://bit.ly/3HIQiPf
4) Financial reports? Serious foundations publish a package of
documents for each charitable project on their websites. To date, the
foundation hasn’t been very transparent. Neither the website nor the
foundation’s Facebook page shows any reports or information on how
the reporting procedure will take place. Will the foundation post photos
of children with their gifts? Or will there be an Excel list showing who
received what? Or nothing at all? Also, it isn’t at all clear how the
donations from the bank are distributed to the New Year’s Miracle. If the
recipients are children from the website who haven’t been “reserved”,
what will the foundation do if the funds amount to less than the amount
of the desired gifts? Currently, the platform shows that 4,058 children
are registered, of which 751 are “reserved” and waiting for a gift.
Perhaps there are no reports because the gifts haven’t been sent yet,
but the platform already has reviews where the children’s parents or
relatives thank the benefactors for, let’s say, the candy they received as
5) And here’s the last reason why we believe that the project shouldn’t
be trusted. The website states that before a child’s profile appears on
the site, it undergoes moderation. We decided to check how it works, so
we registered the name of a fake child on the website. We indicated
Valeriya Fedorivna Zaluzhna as the mother of a fictitious 6-year-old girl,
Milana, from Horishni Plavni, and, in order to receive the parcel at Nova
Poshta, we gave the mobile number of the Kyiv police as a backup
number. As you can see, our application underwent moderation and
appeared on the website. We checked again and saw that the fictitious
data about “Milana’s mother” were actually sent to our fake benefactor’s
Our advice: find out in advance if there’s a way to check what happens
to your donations and the people you send them to. As for benefactors
who want to become Secret St. Nicholas, we advise you to offer gifts to
people you know. Today, we all have friends, acquaintances, or
colleagues who are defending us at the front and who have children.
You can also contact volunteers and IDP support centres in your city
and they’ll tell you about the children that you can help and what age
they are. Such greetings will be more appropriate than sending money
to online scammers, who are especially active before the festive