When the people in Syria and Turkey are mourning over the deaths of their loved ones in one of the most devastating earthquakes in the country, online scammers are using their tears to fill their own pockets. These online scammers have created fake donation sites to lure people into donating while claiming that the money is being offered to those affected by the earthquake in Turkey and Syria. The earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria last Monday caused the death of over 36,000 people and the destruction of countless homes. People in both countries have been stranded in the harsh cold while waiting for help from rescue teams. In Syria, rescue teams are asking for help in the form of modern excavation tools from the international community to increase the pace of rescue operations. There are people across the world that are trying to lend a helping hand to the affected people in Turkey and Syria. But, due to the lack of technical knowledge, these people end up donating to fake pages created by these scammers.
Such scams have been going on since the start of the digital era which provided people with a way to make online payments, internationally. The scammers create landing pages that look similar to the official donation site. Other than looks, scammers also mimic the website address of the original donation to make it seem legitimate. To people who lack technology awareness, these fake donation pages seem similar to the official sites where people fail to differentiate. This way, instead of donating to real charities meant to assist people in distress, people end up providing money to the scammers who are just trying to profit from the situation.
Scammers also use social media to promote their fake donation pages. They use images that display the pain of people affected by any tragedy, in this case, the earthquake. Along with such posts, they share the link to their fake donation page, thus getting people to donate. TikTok has become the preferred platform for these scammers as it is one of the largest social media platforms in the world. TikTok has mostly young users who share very little financial and social knowledge. Teenagers and children interact with this emotionally tailored content to push it up in TikTok’s algorithm. TikTok also does little to almost no policing when it comes to filtering out links and content which is promoting a scam. Having such content pushed up in TikTok’s algorithm does an excellent job of increasing the legitimacy of this scam.
The rescue operations are still ongoing in Turkey and Syria, as the UN and local rescue teams are doing their best to provide shelter and necessary services to the survivors. But on social media platforms such as TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, etc., content promoting such fake scams is being circulated heavily. Similar scam campaigns surfaced when Russia invaded Ukraine, where the people living in affected areas of Ukraine fled to neighboring nations to take shelter. Although it is impossible to police every scam ongoing over the internet, it is still possible to educate people regarding such scams.