Charity crowdfunding scam highlights a new low

Wednesday, 05 July, 2023

Charity crowdfunding scam highlights a new low

Proving that cybercriminals know no limits, a new social media scam exploits victims who believe they are contributing to a crowdfunding account set up to help seriously ill children.

Researchers from Avast say the new scam is a video campaign created by a criminal organisation, which is bringing in tens of thousands of dollars from generous givers.

The video ad spotted on YouTube and Instagram shows an eight-year-old boy called Semion allegedly sick with cancer pleading in Russian for help with treatment. Semion says his family can’t afford treatment for his cancer, and if he doesn’t receive this treatment within the next two weeks it will be too late to save him. Different versions of the video are circulating, with English, French, Spanish and Ukrainian subtitles accompanying the Russian audio track.

The video scam shows an allegedly sick child pleading for help with treatment.

The organisers of the fundraising page claim to be from World Champions EU and linked to an Israeli organisation called World Champions. When Avast researchers reached out to World Champions for comment, they did not hear back.

Organisers claim to be from World Champions EU.

In 2022, Avast researchers found a similar campaign, very likely by the same group based in Israel, in which the videos were viewed millions of times and people donated over $650,000.

Donations to the new scam are currently at over $293,000, with numbers increasing daily. Avast researchers reported the channel to YouTube urging people not to donate and to be mindful when they are served ads for such crowdfunding campaigns on social media.

“As cybersecurity researchers, we constantly see how criminals exploit human nature to make money. One of the most heart-wrenching examples, though, is when people prey on the human desire to help others, especially when it comes to exploiting sick children,” said Luis Corrons, security evangelist and researcher for Avast.

“It’s our job to not only monitor these scams and develop products and services to help protect people against them, but also to educate people about what’s spreading online.

“When it comes to donating, it’s important to verify the authenticity of the organisation before you transfer money to ensure you’re helping who you think you are. To be safest, directly visit the official websites of trusted organisations to donate instead of responding to calls for donations via emails, videos or social media ads,” Corrons said.

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