In all sorts of scams, cyber criminals become more sophisticated. They usually have a compelling story, false promises, and a bunch of tricks at their disposal. They become more innovative and harder to spot. A recent case uncovered a scam by a 36-year-old woman named Mia, a hairdresser from the German city of Kiel. The fraudster Mia asked for around 700,000 Euros through the GoFundMe campaign to save her sick son. It soon turned out that she was using fake photos or photos of another, really sick boy and the testimony of a doctor that did not exist. Many well-known and lesser-known people have stumbled upon this international scam in order to save the child and provide financial assistance. The fraudster Mia and the others from her fraudulent team fortunately earned only 2000 Euros. This case reopens the topic of humanitarian fraud. Wanting to be in solidarity and provide help — who and in what cases can we trust at all? Illness, even if it is a sick child, is the “most lucrative business” for fraudsters. The perpetrators of these crimes and the fabrication of information should be followed by a criminal report and conviction (for example, a fine, imprisonment or community service). Many ingenious fraudsters run fake web portals for organizing fake humanitarian actions. In this way, thousands of Euros or USA Dollars are illegally obtained. The initiation and implementation of humanitarian actions in most countries of the world is clearly prescribed by the Law on Humanitarian Aid. Individual posts on social networks and platforms such as GoFundMe do not meet the requirements of the law and are therefore not legal humanitarian actions, although many have a justifiable reason, but are only appeals for help. months to 5 years in prison. If significant material damage has occurred, a sentence of one year to 8 years in prison is prescribed. Fraud on GoFundMe and similar platforms has become commonplace today. Moreover, he says, such scams are so common that there is even an “anti2 website” that deals with the topic, gives advice and reveals examples – GoFraudMe.com. provides any legal protection to the citizens of those countries in the event of fraud and is therefore not recommended for use. GoFundMe is a platform for the increasingly popular so-called crowdfunding initiatives where the fundraising party can announce its case, argue it and raise funds in a relatively transparent and orderly manner.
The problem is that the nature of this kind of work is not immune to fraud. Providers of such services use various checks on the legitimacy of advertisers’ claims, but it seems that some cases are missed and published. We can conclude that just because a case has been published on such a platform is not enough to immediately trust such a campaign and make a donation. It is necessary to convince ourselves in many ways of the truth of the claims – say information security experts from IT security services.
In order to recognize a false humanitarian action, figuratively speaking, we need to be a kind of “detective”. Wherever we exchange anything, be it money, data, beliefs and the like, we need to be convinced of the identity, purpose and legitimacy of the other party.
A healthy dose of suspicion is desirable. We teach our children not to trust strangers, not to reveal their personal information around, not to share photos online and the like. It is necessary for adults to behave this way. Increased caution should be exercised when we are asked for any personal data on the Internet, especially sensitive personal data, money, credit card number, photos, etc. Digital exchange on the Internet has opened a handful of new opportunities, extremely facilitated and accelerated some types of transactions.
Unfortunately, fake humanitarian action on the internet is very easy to create. Simpler scams use a good story, a few fake photos and the number of giro accounts. The scammers behind the more complex scams are more perfidious. They put a lot of effort into preparing complex scams. In the case of the story of the fraudster from Cologne (Mia Debeljak), we see that behind her are fraudsters who, in addition to the Internet platform, are also available via mobile phones (albeit by messages). It is immediately suspicious that they are supposedly never able to talk, they virtually use multiple players in a scam (the game also includes a “doctor” who answers emails and perfectly confirms the story), then they have a ready story about how and why it is paid into a third party’s account. sides, etc.
The fraudsters in this case went a step further, they wanted to catch the “big fish”, relatives of rich and famous people from whom they tried to extract larger amounts of donations. They would use their donation as a reference and advertisement to encourage smaller donors. He emphasizes that almost all frauds involve “great haste”. Additionally and unfortunately, stories about children are often used to increase the sensibility of potential donors. Fraudsters also play the card of “small donations”. When a person pays, for example, $ 10, they won’t check too much to see if that money really ended up where it should. But such scams must not discourage us from always helping those in need in various ways. Because, such scams are usually not difficult to detect. If we suspect that an online humanitarian action is fake, the case should be immediately reported to the service provider / platform on which the donation takes place and to the competent fraud services, ie the police. On the other hand, if a case is suspicious to us, we have a handful of alternative humanitarian actions of much greater credibility where we can be confident that our help will be provided to just who needs it. After successful humanitarian actions for individual families and sick children, parents often establish foundations within which help is given to other children. Foundations should be registered and operated in accordance with legal regulations. You can always contact the presidents and members of the foundation for any advice on how to insure yourself when launching a humanitarian action and how to conduct everything transparently. The humanitarian work of the foundation is usually attended by several experts of different expertise and several volunteers. It is all the safer to turn to the Foundation for help than to take action on your own. In addition to financially, foundations help administratively, in an advisory capacity, in establishing communication with foreign hospitals and institutions, and in many other ways.
In relation to actions on social networks and crowdfunding platforms, the participation of a certain foundation in a humanitarian action arouses a certain dose of credibility among citizens. Unlike the case of fraudulent action, the Foundation always pays the money directly to the hospital. Payment to intermediaries is not possible because everything is verifiable.
The so-called “live” contact to gain trust
Successful humanitarian action requires credibility and the trust of donors. Gaining trust online can be divided into several steps:
1. Use a verified website / platform, protected by an adequate digital certificate (https) of general trust (visible in an Internet browser), of good repute and which we know or at least firmly believe to operate in accordance with legal regulations and ethical standards.
2. We must be aware that even on verified websites / platforms there are scams, which are present by the nature of such business. It is in this case that GoFundMe is such a scam because the platform itself is legitimate, but the one who posted the donation case did not have good intentions. Another close example is, for example, online advertisements where it is impossible for a service provider to adequately check all advertisers and make sure of the legality and ethics of exchanging goods or services they advertise.
3. When we find something we want to participate in and donate, it is necessary to conduct additional verification from other sources. The easiest way is to search the internet for additional information and see if it matches the original story. If necessary, use means other than the Internet (call a specific phone number, check the actual location, contact the service provider, etc.)
4. If we find that it is a fraud, report it as soon as possible to the competent institutions (police) and the service provider / owner of the platform on which we noticed the fraud.