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1 June 2022updated 27 Oct 2023 11:15am

How scammers are exploiting the war in Ukraine

Spotlight analysis reveals a spike in registrations of domains referencing the conflict.

By Nicu Calcea

On 24 February, Russian troops invaded Ukraine, marking a pivotal point in the conflict which started with Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, Ukraine’s southern peninsula, in 2014.

The next day, some 150 internet domains containing the word “Ukraine” in their URL were registered globally, according to figures collected by DomainTools. By 31 May, at least 17,114 Ukraine-related domains had been purchased.

While many of these websites were registered as legitimate ways to raise funds or spread information about the war, many others are collecting donations without specifying where the money will end up.

One such example is ukrainecryptocurrencydonations.com, which collects Bitcoin and Ethereum donations without revealing the beneficiary of those funds. Another website, donate4ukraine.org, urges visitors to donate $1 to save starving Ukrainian children from death, while featuring a stock photo of children in Afghanistan.

Neither of these websites feature any legitimate contact details, although the latter lists a phone number belonging to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence. We couldn't get an official confirmation whether the Ukrainian government has endorsed the crypto donations website, but a Google search has not found any results linking the two.

Many of the websites registered in the past few months are built using platforms like Google Sites or Wix, which allow anyone to set up a website with little to no technical expertise. Donations are usually collected through a range of cryptocurrencies, all of which protect the anonymity of the final recipients of the money.

Other websites claim to be affiliated with big international humanitarian organisations and charities, such as UNICEF or Save the Children.

Donation scammers are not the only people profiting from the war.

Some organisations have used the conflict as a chance to promote their businesses. A group of websites including escape-ukraine.com, registered the day after the Russian invasion, redirect to a company advertising real estate properties in Bulgaria and Turkey.

Other websites are even more nefarious. Since the start of the war, a few dozen websites have popped up advertising “dates” with Ukrainian women. Since the data on domain registrations prior to 25 February is not available, it’s impossible to say whether this was an increase compared to pre-war times.

Our analysis identified 601 websites mentioning war or arms in their URL, 279 mentioning donations, 118 mentioning shopping and 70 mentioning cryptocurrencies.

Several charities, including the British Red Cross, have urged people not to donate or engage with unsolicited emails, even if they appear to come from a legitimate source, because of the high incidence of online scams.

The British government has published advice on how to ensure donations end up being used for legitimate purposes, including checking a charity’s registration details and staying safe online. The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is also operating a platform for donations, both for the government and private charities.

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