Generosity, compassion, empathy, charity—these are the things that make us human. When we see someone hurting, reaching out to help comes almost as naturally as reaching for your smartphone when you realize there’s going to be a seven-minute wait at the dentist. But when it comes to large-scale, international crises, like what’s happening in Ukraine, many of us don’t have the tools or resources to volunteer or help directly—which, instead, presents us with the opportunity to give our support financially.
Enter: your not-so-friendly neighborhood scammer. With the sudden influx of resources and support being sent to Ukraine, savvy scammers are capitalizing on the loot. In fact, according to Tessian Cloud Email Security, the number of new domains registered containing the word “Ukraine” is up 210% since last year—and 77% of those appear to be malicious.1
If you feel compelled in your heart to give, don’t let the fear of getting scammed stop you. Giving is one of the most important things you can do with your money. And it’s also the most fun you can have with money. It’s not only beneficial to those on the receiving end, but it’s also good for you. Giving helps your mental health, makes you and those around you happier, and according to Geisinger Health, reduces long-term stress (which in turn makes you live longer). Plus, if you’re a person of faith, giving is something you are called to do.
But if you use some simple street smarts, you can be confident that your money will get into the right hands and make the most impact as you support Ukraine. So, here are my top tips on how to avoid scams:
1. Verify the charity and use trusted resources. Yeah, it seems pretty obvious, but malicious sites and schemes are getting better and better at tricking us into trusting them. That’s why you should always go directly to a charity’s website instead of giving via social media, clicking on something in an email or text message, or giving over the phone. Online sites like Charity Navigator or GuideStar are some snazzy (and helpful) resources that find and vet trustworthy charities and organizations for you.
2. Pay attention to payment methods. For starters, never give money over phone or text. Phone calls tend to be scams, but if for some reason it seems legit, call the organization back yourself (via the actual phone number on their website) before you even think about providing payment. If they’re encouraging you to pay with cryptocurrency, gift cards, or wire transfers, I’d be willing to bet my air fryer it’s a scam—and that’s saying something (I mean, have you ever made brussels sprouts in those things?). Also watch out for QR codes. Often, scammers will use those to take you directly to payment apps like Cash App or Zelle. And finally, triple-check anything crowdfunded, like GoFundMe accounts, and make sure the organizer is who they say they are and that they’re funneling the money where they say it will go.
3. Be skeptical and do your research. I know, research sounds like a bad habit you gave up after college, but even just a quick Google search will probably tell you everything you need to know about an alleged charity. A good rule of thumb is that if it feels sketchy, it probably is. Look for clues, like misspellings. And if you feel any pressure, urgency or guilt, consider those red flags that further investigation is a must. The red flags you had about your ex may not apply here, but use those same gut feelings to make wise decisions.
If you think you’ve struck gold on some suspicious activity, report it to the attorney general’s office in your state, then file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). If you realize you’re a victim of a scam, contact your bank to freeze your account and see what they can do for you, and be sure to file a crime complaint report.
Even if you don’t have a lot to give right now, giving what you can will change you. I promise. You’ll start to find yourself feeling more grateful and content with your life. And don’t worry about the dollar amount. Small sacrifices will make a difference in your life, and more importantly, someone else’s. Now go forth and give—often and wisely!
George Kamel is a personal finance expert with a countercultural approach to money. He’s the host of The Fine Print podcast and The EntreLeadership Podcast on the Ramsey Network. Since 2013, George has served at Ramsey Solutions, where his goal is to help people spend less, save more, and avoid consumer traps so they can make the most of their money. Follow George on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook or find out more about him online at ramseysolutions.com/personalities.