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BBB warns of charity scams for Ukraine

Posted at 11:21 PM, Mar 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-03 23:21:33-05

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (WXYZ)  — With millions of dollars in support from all over the globe being sent to help Ukraine after the Russian invasion began, the Better Business Bureau is warning people to be aware of charity scams.

St. Clair Shores resident David Rubello said he's working with a trusted person in Ukraine, someone he and his wife met years ago when they were adopting their daughter, Sasha.

Lakeland Manor in St. Clair Shores is helping Rubello hold a fundraiser dinner Saturday where he says all of the proceeds are going to help children in Ukraine orphanages through Children Advocacy Ukraine.

"This is just a small way to help and I trust these people," said Rubello. "And woe to the person that is taking advantage of the situation through scams."

7 Action News spoke by phone to Natalia Kovalchuk, the founder of Children Advocacy Ukraine, who remains in Ukraine.

For years, Kovalchuk, an attorney, said she's used her own money to help the children in orphanages, but this war means having to send in a team to rescue them and the adults caring for them as well as a number of other efforts to support those in Ukraine.

"Raising money is new and kind of, you know, we Ukrainians, we do not, it's not in our culture to ask for money, really. So it was, at first, it was kind of embarrassing," Kovalchuk told 7 Action News, adding that there are orphanages who were unable to get out of the European country before Russia's attacks began.

"It was too late for them to leave because it's dangerous," said Kovalchuk.

And it's the heartache at the center of war that has people looking for ways to help.

“Unfortunately, scammers love to use times of tragedy and unrest to take advantage of kind-hearted people, said Melanie Duquesnel, President & CEO of Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. “We know that everyone wants to help as much and as quickly as they can, but it is so important to take a pause and do your research so that you do not fall victim to a scam.”

Here are some tips from the BBB to keep in mind if you're looking to donate:

  • Can the charity get to the impacted area? Not all relief organizations will be positioned to provide relief quickly. See if the charity already has a presence in Ukraine.
  • Should you send clothing and food? Local drives to collect clothing and food to send overseas may not be practical as the logistics and timing to deliver and disperse such items will be challenging. Relief organizations are better equipped to obtain what is needed, distribute it effectively and avoid duplication of effort.
  • Does the relief charity meet BBB Charity Standards?  You can verify a charity’s trustworthiness by viewing an evaluative report completed by BBB Wise Giving Alliance.  See the list provided below of charities that are soliciting for relief assistance for Ukraine and that also meet the BBB Standards for Charity Accountability.
  • Is the charity experienced in providing emergency relief? Experienced disaster relief charities are the best bet to help deliver aid as soon as possible. New entrants may have difficulty in following through even if they have the best of intentions.
  • Are you considering crowdfunding appeals? If engaging in crowdfunding, it is safest to give to someone you personally know and trust. You should also review the platform’s policies regarding fees and distribution of collected funds. If the crowdfunding request is from a charity, check out the group by visiting Give.org. Keep in mind that some crowdfunding sites do very little vetting of individuals or organizations that decide to post for relief assistance. Sites that take security measures will usually provide descriptions of these procedures.
  • Does the appeal make exaggerated financial claims such as “100% will be spent on relief?” Charities have fundraising and administrative expenses. Any charity claiming otherwise is potentially misleading the donating public. Even a credit card donation will have a processing fee.

If you suspect someone is operating a scam, you can report it to the BBB, the Michigan Attorney General, or your local police department.

If you suspect someone is using a crowdfunding platform like GoFundMe to scam people out of money, you can report it directly to the platform and they will investigate.

GoFundMe said they have verified some fundraisers for Ukraine on their platform which means they know the identity of the organizer, who they are raising funds for, the organizer’s relationship to the recipient of the funds, and how the funds will be used. Their verification process could also mean that they are holding the money raised until the recipient is added to the fundraiser so they can withdraw the money after their identity has been confirmed.