Scammers profiting from Turkey-Syria earthquake: BBC
Many abused the situation after the earthquake and deceived people into donating on TikTok, Twitter, and through PayPal, scamming them in the process.
In a BBC report on Tuesday, security experts warned that scammers are using the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria to deceive people into donating to bogus causes.
These scams claim to raise funds for survivors who have been left without heat or water as a result of the disasters that have killed over 35,000 people, according to the BBC. However, instead of assisting those in need, scammers divert donations away from legitimate charities and into their own PayPal accounts and cryptocurrency wallets.
TikTok; a modern 'charity'
Content creators on TikTok Live can earn money by receiving digital gifts. TikTok accounts are now posting photos of the devastation, looped footage, and recordings of TVs showing rescue efforts, all while soliciting donations.
"Let's help Turkey," "Pray for Turkey," and "Donate for earthquake victims" are among the captions.
One account, which was live for more than three hours, displayed a pixelated aerial image of destroyed buildings, accompanied by explosion sound effects. A male voice off-camera laughs and speaks in Chinese. The caption for the video is "Let's help Turkey. Donation".
Another video shows a distressed child fleeing from an explosion. The live stream is titled "Please help achieve this goal," - an apparent plea for TikTok gifts. However, the child in the photo is not related to last week's earthquakes. The same picture was shared on Twitter in 2018 with a completely different caption, according to BBC.
"We are deeply saddened by the devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria," a TikTok spokesperson told the BBC. "We are contributing to earthquake relief efforts," adding "we're also actively working to prevent people from scamming and misleading community members who want to help."
People are posting emotional images on Twitter, along with links to cryptocurrency wallets that request donations. The same appeal was posted eight times in 12 hours on one account, with an image of a firefighter holding a small child amid collapsed buildings.
However, the image used is not authentic. According to the Greek newspaper OEMA, it was created by the Major General of the Aegean Fire Brigade Panagiotis Kotridis using the Artificial Intelligence software Midjourney.
AI image generators frequently make mistakes, and Twitter users were quick to notice that this firefighter's right hand has six digits. To confirm this, BBC asked colleagues from the BBC's Blue Room to generate similar images using the same software.
They requested an "image of a firefighter in the aftermath of an earthquake rescuing a young child and wearing a helmet with the Greek flag" from the software, and were given the following options:
Furthermore, one of the cryptocurrency wallet addresses was used in scam and spam tweets in 2018. The other address was found on the Russian social media website VK, alongside pornographic content.
The BBC contacted the person who tweeted the appeal, who then denied it was a hoax. The person claimed to have a poor connection but answered, "My aim is to be able to help people affected by the earthquake if I manage to raise funds", they said.
"Now people are cold in the disaster area, and especially babies do not have food. I can prove this process with receipts." However, they did not send receipts or proof of their identity.
Scammers create bogus fundraising accounts on Twitter and post PayPal links. According to Ax Sharma, a cyber security expert, in order to gain visibility, these accounts retweet news articles and respond to tweets from celebrities and businesses. "They create fake disaster relief accounts that appear to be legitimate organizations or news outlets, but then drive funds to their own PayPal addresses," he told the BBC.
It's one of more than 100 fundraisers launched on PayPal in recent days, some of which are fake, asking for donations to help those affected by the earthquakes.
Sharma told BBC that donors should be especially wary of accounts that say they are in Turkey because 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," he says.
Anonymous donations and small-dollar appeals are also things to keep an eye out for. True charities, according to Sharma, should have "significant funds," but many PayPal fundraisers have less than £100.
The fraudulent account has been suspended by PayPal. "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," a PayPal spokesperson told the BBC.
"PayPal teams are always working diligently to scrutinize and ban accounts, particularly in the wake of events like the earthquake in Turkey and Syria, so that donations go to intended causes."