The profiteers on the pain of earthquake victims

Scammers are taking advantage of the earthquake disasters in Turkey and Syria to steal donations, making relief efforts more difficult.

The scammers claim the reason for the donation is to support survivors who are living in starvation after the earthquake of the century killed more than 41,000 people in Turkey and Syria. But instead of helping desperate victims, the scammers transfer charitable donations to their PayPal accounts or crypto wallets.

On TikTok Live, the streaming platform, content creators can earn money by receiving digital gifts. Now, scam accounts on TikTok are constantly posting photos of dire scenes at the earthquake scene or TV news reports about rescue efforts to call for donations.

A man rests his face on the rubble of a collapsed building caused by an earthquake in the city of Diyarbakir, Turkey, on February 8.  Photo: Reuters.

A man rests his face on the rubble of a collapsed building caused by an earthquake in the city of Diyarbakir, Turkey, on February 8. Image: Reuters.

The introductions in these posts often contain slogans like “Help Turkey” or “Pray for Turkey” and end with the message “support for earthquake victims”.

One account went live for more than three hours, showing aerial footage of destroyed buildings, with sound effects of explosions, with the caption: “Help Turkey. Please. donations”.

Another live video shows a picture of a frightened child running from an explosion with the message “Help achieve this donation goal”, suggesting viewers give gifts on TikTok to ” charity”.

However, the photo of the child was not taken during the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria last week. It was posted on Twitter in 2018 with the caption “Stop the Afrin Genocide”, referring to a city in northwestern Syria where Turkish-backed gunmen attacked civilian militias. Kurds in the same year.

On Twitter, many users are also sharing touching images of the earthquake and links to e-wallets for donations. One account posted identical appeals eight times in 12 hours, with a picture of a firefighter holding a baby amid collapsed buildings.

However, this is not a real photo. Greek newspaper OEMA said it was actually created by Midjourney artificial intelligence (AI) software. AI imaging programs often make mistakes, and Twitter users quickly discovered that this firefighter’s right hand has six fingers.

One e-wallet address that receives donations has been used in phishing and spam tweets since 2018. The other has posted pornographic content on the Russian social network VK.

When BBC contact, the people posting the donation tweet claim they are not a scam. “My aim is to be able to help those affected by the earthquake if I successfully raise funds,” one person said. “Right now, they are living in the cold, the children have no food. I can prove this with the bill.”

In the end, however, they didn’t send remittance receipts or any proof of their real identities.

Elsewhere on Twitter, scammers create fake fundraising accounts and post links to PayPal.

The photo from 2018 (left) was reposted by a Tik Tok account to raise money for Turkey earthquake victims.  Photo: BBC.

A photo of a Syrian baby from 2018 (right) was reposted by a TikTok account to raise money for Turkish earthquake victims. Image: BBC.

These accounts often retweet articles and respond to celebrity or business tweets to gain attention and build trust, said Ax Sharma, a cybersecurity expert at software company Sonatype, in the US.

“They create fake disaster relief accounts that appear to be from legitimate organizations or news agencies, but then request funds to be sent to their own PayPal addresses,” he said.

Sharma said philanthropists should be especially wary of accounts that say they are at the site of an earthquake, as PayPal has not operated in Turkey since 2016.

“There are real charities outside of Turkey that are using PayPal, but when fundraisers say they’re in Turkey, that’s a scam sign,” he insisted.

“While the vast majority of people who use PayPal to receive donations have good intentions, there are certainly some who are trying to take advantage of the kindness of others,” a PayPal spokesperson said.

A TikTok spokesperson said they are “deeply saddened by the devastating earthquake disaster in Turkey and Syria and are helping to support relief efforts. “We are also actively preventing any scams. scam and mislead community members who want to help,” the spokesman said.

Vu Hoang (According to BBC)

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