How to check the honesty of charities and avoid becoming a victim of fraud
On November 10, Kyiv police uncovered scammers exploiting social media to raise funds, supposedly for the treatment of wounded soldiers and seriously ill children. The fraudsters managed to defraud Ukrainians of nearly 700,000 hryvnias, diverting the “earned” money towards entertainment. The criminals face a possible five-year stint behind bars.
According to the police investigation, much of the information used by the scammers was true. The fraudsters monitored social media for posts seeking help to treat children or military personnel, duplicated the information on their own page, and used their bank details to receive funds.
Law enforcement officers do not specify the nature of the fundraising, but we have repeatedly warned readers about donating to dubious accounts. Here’s a story about a fake fundraiser for wounded Oleksandr Fihliar, where scammers used his photo to deceive donors, and another case exploiting the story of wounded Maksym Tykhonenko for fraudulent gains.
With each published article, readers seek advice on how to distinguish between honest and fraudulent fundraising campaigns.
This issue intensified when activists encountered questionable volunteers dressed in military uniforms, soliciting funds near the Maidan Nezalezhnosti metro station. These volunteers, upon request by the activists, failed to provide any receipts or transaction screenshots. When probed about the purpose of their fundraising, they searched for information sheets on the table and even mocked a veteran’s injuries.
This incident underscores the need for a comprehensive guide on distinguishing between honest and fraudulent fundraising campaigns. The necessity for such guidelines was further highlighted in a recent case where we wrongly labeled a legitimate fundraiser as fraudulent. Despite our previous error, if we were asked once more if there was anything wrong with this campaign we would once again point to a series of signs that give rise to doubts about its legitimacy.
It’s not just charity workers who need to be careful to avoid being fooled; individuals, too, bear the responsibility of upholding their integrity beyond any doubt.
Today, Oleksandr Hrabovsky, the brother of wounded Maksym Lutsko, whom we mistakenly accused of fraud, agrees with us.
Hrabovsky states, “Back then, we didn’t have time to take everything into account, and we were doing it for the first time. Now I understand what went wrong. I completely agree with you: we should have thought through the text more carefully, immediately clarified the questionable points (identical texts from two fundraising individuals with different surnames who called themselves brothers of wounded Maksym - ed.), and paid more attention to each comment (people commenting below the post accused him of fraud - ed.).”
So, here’s a small piece of advice: when personally donating money, be 100% sure about the integrity of the recipient - whether you know them personally or they come recommended by competent and trusted friends. In other cases, refrain from contributing to personal bank cards
Instead, consider directing your funds to a well-established charity with a proven track record. Make sure:
- It’s covered in both the media and public space;
- It’s got a regularly updated website;
- It’s easy to access details about current fundraisers details, including beneficiaries and total amounts collected;
- Information about the fund can be verified through services like Youcontrol and Opendatabot, and doesn’t raise suspicion;
- Individuals linked to the foundation have a clean record, with their information available in the public domain.
- There are no signs of mass registration of other companies at the organization’s registration address, and there are no court cases involving the organization;
- The organization is committed to transparent reporting.
To avoid problems with tax authorities, volunteers can opt for registration in the Volunteer Register maintained by the State Tax Service – this is an additional way to check the integrity of the benefactor.
However, it’s obvious that relatives of a wounded soldier are unlikely to sign up in the Volunteer Register for a one-time fundraiser. If these individuals are unfamiliar to you, with no means to verify the authenticity of their funds and no room for a personal investigation, it’s better to refrain from such donations… even if the fundraiser proves genuine.
For those in need, seeking assistance from a charity is always an option. Therefore, we remind you to consider donating directly to well-established funds in such cases.
For those determined to contribute to the personal bank card stipulated in a fundraiser, please pay attention to the following signs:
- Volunteers communicate from a profile featuring their photo and may be identified in pictures with a group. You can always cross-check the volunteer’s name against the register of lost passports. Volunteers often have a special ID card that they can show you, although this isn’t always the case;
- Volunteers maintain open-to-all, long-standing profiles with diverse content shared by other people. The uniqueness of this content can be verified;
- Volunteers don’t solicit funds without reason. They clearly outline who the funds are intended for, the required amount, and present a breakdown of expenses and their goal. Feel free to inquire about these details.
- Volunteers substantiate their activities with personal photo/video reports that aren’t stolen from other fundraisers. They show the fundraiser’s focus and the individuals benefitting from volunteer efforts. In the case of documents, they adhere to the standards expected in the reporting of legal entities