Disaster Struck Turkey and Syria — and Bad Actors Took Advantage

Depiction of a natural disaster -- an earthquake.

In February 2023, both Turkey and Syria were hit with a massive earthquake — and bad actors capitalized on the flood of donations pouring into the countries. Read further for more details about how charity scams work, and how LegitScript’s monitoring solutions protect companies like yours.


Turkey and Syria Get Hit With an Earthquake

On February 6, 2023, a devastating earthquake and dozens of aftershocks struck the southern region of Turkey and western Syria, which resulted in widespread destruction and tragic loss of life.

In response to these disasters, communities worldwide have come together to provide relief and support to the affected regions through fundraisers and donation campaigns. As we often see whenever there is a natural disaster, enterprising bad actors exploit these efforts by launching bogus donation websites, which leads to financial losses and causes mistrust among well-meaning donors. Months after the disaster, these scams persist.


Bad Actors Use Charity Scams

Charity scams can take many forms, including fraudulent group fundraising campaigns, phishing emails and texts, and impersonation of legitimate organizations. This past February, the FTC issued a consumer alert cautioning the public that scammers might piggyback on Turkey-Syria relief efforts by using deceptive business names that sound vaguely familiar or legitimate for their fraudulent charities.

The FTC advised donors to exercise caution and conduct thorough research before contributing to new charities by taking measures such as verifying their legitimacy through watchdog groups, confirming their registration status, and exercising caution for new organizations that may request donations via cash, gift card, or wire transfer.

LegitScript is taking action to address these scams to protect our clients. As recovery efforts continue into the summer, we persistently monitor the situation and identify merchants that present elevated risk for donation scams.

At the end of Q1 2023, LegitScript reported nearly 60 potentially problematic merchants engaged in Turkey-Syria earthquake fundraising activities.

Illicit merchants exhibited common red flags, such as presenting vague information about the organization and recipients of the donations. For example, one merchant was observed collecting donations for Turkey and Syria without specifying where or how the funds would be distributed. The company was established just a few days after the tragedy and had limited social media presence and business information. Furthermore, the offline donation wire transfer method linked on the website is unusual for legitimate charities and raised red flags for our team.

In addition, recent BBC news has revealed a concerning trend in which fraudsters utilize social media platforms such as Twitter to request donations by sharing images of destruction, footage of the disaster, and recordings of rescue efforts.

Such scams typically lead viewers to external payment websites to collect funds. LegitScript identified one such high-risk merchant that sought to raise funds from a video without providing specific information on where the money was going and what it was to be used for.

Moreover, among the merchants LegitScript has reported, nearly a third were individuals attempting to raise funds from crowdfunding platforms such as Fundly or GoGetFunding.

While crowdfunding can effectively raise funds for individuals in hardship, scammers often exploit these channels, as many can fabricate hardships, and there is no guarantee that the funds received will be utilized as claimed.


LegitScript’s Merchant Monitoring Solution Protects You From Bad Actors

Monitoring potential scams and fraudulent activity related to the Turkey-Syria disaster relief remains a high priority for LegitScript as the situation persists. Any fundraising merchants deemed to pose a heightened risk of fraudulent or deceptive behavior found in client portfolios or on client platforms will be promptly reported by LegitScript.