The morning after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Turkey and Syria, Haluk Levent, a popular musician in Turkey, met with the country’s financial watchdog to allow the set up of crypto wallets to collect donations.
Within hours, Levent managed to tweet the addresses of three new crypto wallets that people can donate to, which accept donations for one week. But shortly after his tweet, fraudulent accounts began to pop up on Twitter with their own crypto-wallets linked, claiming to be charities helping the victims in Turkey.
Levent warned his followers to report the accounts. One account in question was using the same name and logo as the NGO that Levent runs called AHBAP, which helps victims on the ground in Turkey.
See: How to help Turkey earthquake victims: ‘Give cash’ and ‘take the long view’
Neither the legitimate AHBAP account nor the scam AHBAP account have a verification check mark from Twitter, despite users tagging Twitter and Elon Musk to verify the actual NGO. The scam account was eventually taken down by Twitter. The social-media platform didn’t respond to request for comment regarding whether it will verify the real AHBAP account.
The situation led many experts and crypto users to warn others about donating cryptocurrencies to a potential scam wallet, which can be hard to spot to the untrained eye.
Once cryptocurrency has been sent to a crypto wallet, it is not recoverable if it’s a scam. But a crypto security expert said there are a few things to look out for.
“In situations where it’s clear that a Twitter account has started up on the same day as the earthquake, or has been active previously but changed its name, chances are in those situations it’s more likely than not to be a scam,” said Arda Akartuna, senior cryptocurrency threat analyst at Elliptic, a blockchain and crypto analytics firm.
Akartuna said to check the history of the account that’s sharing a crypto wallet address, which are written out as long strings of random alphabets and numbers.
“In terms of looking at the wallet address […] if someone put a wallet address out there and says ‘this is a donation address for this cause’ and you look at it and transactions are from way before hand, that implies that it’s not a wallet address that’s set up purely to receive your donations for that specific reason,” Akartuna said.
He added that it might not always be a clear indicator that the crypto wallet is a scam, but it raises questions, because in most situations, people create a new wallet from scratch, like Levent did.
The transactions to and from a crypto wallet are visible on websites like Nansen, which shows that $2.6 million worth of crypto has been donated to Turkey as of Tuesday afternoon.
Blockchain solutions like Elliptic also analyze where funds are going to and coming from. Last year, the team at Elliptic found a wallet address that was claiming to send funds to help victims in Ukraine, but it was actually funneling that money to gambling sites.
Other signs to look out for, according to Akartuna, is whether the Twitter account that’s tweeting out a crypto wallet address has many followers, whether those followers are legitimate, when the account was started, and whether many prominent figures have retweeted it.
Despite all these challenges, proponents of cryptocurrency like donating with crypto because it has some perceived benefits over donating using fiat currency.
“The benefit of using crypto donations is avoiding substantial wire fees for international transfers,” said Akartuna. “Some individuals that need help might not have bank accounts that can accept international transfers, and so sending funds through crypto would be much cheaper and quicker and accessible to those who aren’t on the financial grid in those situations.”