Turkey-Syria earthquake scams: how to spot fraudulent appeal, where does money go and how to report a scam

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Fraudsters have been taking advantage of people by asking for charity donations on social media

Security experts have warned that scammers are trying to take advantage of people giving charity donations to the Turkey Syria earthquake. Reported by the BBC, fraudsters have set up accounts on social media platforms including TikTok, where they share videos asking for charity donations.

Scammers claim that the money they raise will go to the communities devastated by the earthquake, which has left survivors without water or shelter. But instead, the money is going into their own PayPal accounts and cryptocurrency wallets.

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The earthquake, which struck the border region between Turkey and Syria on 6 February has so far claimed an estimated 34,000 lives. So, how can you spot a fraudulent charity appeal? Here’s everything you need to know.

Who are the scammers?

Since the earthquake happened, accounts asking for donations have popped up on social media platforms including TikTok and Twitter. Using TikTok Live, these accounts receive money through digital gifts, they also ask for donations and show emotive imagery of the aftermath of the earthquake alongside captions that say “Let’s help Turkey” and “Donate for earthquake victims”. Many of the images used tend to be fraudulent, with AI imagery depicting firefighters rescuing children being uncovered in recent scams following the disaster.

Scammers have been trying to take advantage of the humanitarian crisis (Photo: Getty Images)Scammers have been trying to take advantage of the humanitarian crisis (Photo: Getty Images)
Scammers have been trying to take advantage of the humanitarian crisis (Photo: Getty Images) | Getty Images

Speaking to the BBC, Ax Sharma, cyber security expert at Sonatype, explains how these accounts trick people into donating money. Sharma says: “They create fake disaster relief accounts that appear to be legitimate organisations or news outlets, but then drive funds to their own PayPal addresses. This is a red flag as PayPal has not been operating in Turkey since 2016. There are real charities outside of Turkey using PayPal, but when these fundraisers say they’re in Turkey, that’s a red flag.”

How can you spot a fake appeal?

Following humanitarian disasters, scammers will often try to trick people into giving donations, which instead of going to those in need will go directly into their pocket. They use social media platforms including TikTok and Twitter to collect donations, their posts often use emotive language, imagery and videos to secure an emotional response. Sometimes they will even claim they are affiliated with legitimate charities or government organisations. It’s important that before you make a donation you are confident you are giving to a genuine charity or organisation. If you are in doubt, you can look them up on the UK charity register.

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“We are deeply saddened by the devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria and are contributing to aid earthquake relief efforts,” said a TikTok spokesperson. “We’re also actively working to prevent people from scamming and misleading community members who want to help.”

Scams should be reported directly to the social media platform or Action Fraud UK (Photo: AFP via Getty Images)Scams should be reported directly to the social media platform or Action Fraud UK (Photo: AFP via Getty Images)
Scams should be reported directly to the social media platform or Action Fraud UK (Photo: AFP via Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

Where does the money from fake appeals go?

Money from fake appeals is often deposited directly into the scammer’s PayPal account. A spokesperson for PayPal said: “While the vast majority of people using PayPal to accept donations have the best intentions, there are inevitably some who attempt to prey on the charitable nature and generosity of others. PayPal teams are always working diligently to scrutinise and ban accounts, particularly in the wake of events like the earthquake in Turkey and Syria, so that donations go to intended causes.”

How can you report a scam?

If you uncover a scam asking for donations you can report it directly to the social media platform or Action Fraud UK.

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