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Compelled to donate to Ukraine? Beware of scammers

The BBB and state Department of Trade and Consumer protection warn scammers may take advantage of your goodwill.
Published: Mar. 7, 2022 at 6:43 PM CST|Updated: Mar. 7, 2022 at 7:13 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - As the crisis in Ukraine intensifies, you may be compelled to aid in relief efforts. But as the Better Business Bureau and State Department of Trade and Consumer protection warn, scammers will take advantage of your goodwill.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began two weeks ago, you’ve probably seen people posting on social media about resources to help refugees. But how do you know your money and donations are actually getting to people in need?

Lara Sutherlin, Administrator of DATCP, says she is not surprised Wisconsinites are moved by the crisis and feel the urgency to help and she says it’s easier to be taken advantage of than you think. DATCP has the following suggestions before making donations to charitable organizations.

  • Be cautious of charities that have popped up since the invasion started
  • Be leery of high-pressure pitches and requests to wire money
  • Confirm the organization has the ability to actually get donations overseas and into the hands of those who need them most

“We just encourage people to do the research because there are people out there who are not legitimate, they are scammers,” Sutherlin said. “They are trying to look like other organizations, they may mirror websites, phone numbers and emails, all of which are designed to steal your money.”

Crowd funding, maybe by someone who has family or friends in Ukraine, is not always a scam. But Sutherlin explains donating this way may not be tax exempt, and there are more hurdles for donors to jump through.

“This isn’t to say these donation sites are trying to steal from you, but they may not have the infrastructure or tax-exempt status that you can get from a charitable organization that has been around for years. Ones that are able to mobilize, to staff and act quickly in a time of crisis,” Sutherlin said.

Lisa Schiller, a spokesperson for the BBB, shared similar views.

“You might find a local drive that’s collecting clothing or food to send overseas and it may not be practical because the logistics and timing to deliver these items and disperse them can be very challenging,” Schiller said. “Relief organizations really are better equipped to obtain when is needed distributed effectively and then avoid duplicating that effort.”

DATCP suggests searching charitable donations by name on CharityNavigator.org or Give.org to verify their legitimacy.

One such organization -- the Polish Center of Wisconsin. Executive Director Jeff Kuderski says the Polish Center has a direct contact with people in Poland who are helping Ukrainian refugees fleeing there. Since the campaign started a week ago, the Polish Center has raised more than $9,000. Funds will be used to purchase food, water and medical supplies.

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