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A Pennsylvania woman born in Ukraine — who has been raising money and collecting critical supplies for her native country as the Russia-Ukraine war rages — is strongly advising others to make sure they know exactly to whom and where they’re sending relief donations.
She has good reason to warn others: She herself was scammed while trying to do good.
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Lesya Jurgovsky, who has lived in the US since 2004 and who served in the US Army from 2009-2017, told Fox News Digital she discovered someone had created a fake Instagram account in her name.
Under any circumstances, this would be very concerning — yet there was an extra layer of deceit.
Jorgovsky has been raising money and collecting supplies for people in her embattled homeland. Whoever created the fake account was impersonating Jorgovsky in an effort to obtain donations directly from her loved ones, she said.
Jorgovsky said she suspects the money was to be kept by whomever was impersonating her.
“I don’t feel protected on Facebook.”
While Jorgovsky is still holding private fundraisers for Ukraine, she decided to move all of her other fundraising efforts off social media, now that she’s discovered the fraudulent account.
“I don’t feel protected on Facebook,” she said in regard to collecting money via the platform.
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Fox News Digital reached out to Meta, formerly known as Facebook, Inc., which also owns Instagram, for comment.
Jorgovsky said she reported the fake account to Facebook and Instagram, but she hasn’t yet received a response. While Jorgovsky was speaking with Fox News Digital, the fake account was still active.
“My friends are still receiving weird messages from Instagram,” she said.
“I never had an Instagram account.”
Jurgovsky first became aware of the fake account after her friends contacted her saying that they’d received strange messages from an account that used her name on Instagram.
Initially, those friends thought Jurgovsky had made an Instagram page and that someone had hacked it.
But “I never had an Instagram account,” Jurgovsky said.
Jurgovsky moved there to the US in 2004. During her time in the US Army, from 2009 to 2017, she worked in vehicle maintenance. After that, she settled in Pittsburgh with her husband.
With war tearing across her native land, Jurgovky raised nearly $5,000 using the Facebook charitable giving platform. She’s also helped send money and supplies to Ukrainian orphanages and to the country’s army.
The needs are great: The United Nations Children’s Fund said that two million children have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24, Fox News reported on March 30. Also, UNICEF estimates that more than 2.5 million children have been internally displaced inside of Ukraine.
After discovering the fake account, Lesya Jorgovsky decided to move the money off the Facebook platform.
Overall, the UN believes more than 4 million people have fled Ukraine during the conflict so far.
Aside from money, Jurgovsky has sent first aid kits, water backpacks, sleeping bags, batteries and chargers.
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After discovering the fake account, however, she decided to move all the money off Facebook.
“My advice is to donate to people you know. If you don’t know someone, go to a church.”
Recently, Jurgovsky announced on Facebook that she’s planning an in-person Easter egg painting event in collaboration with her local church. Half the money collected from participation fees will go to support the people of Ukraine, she said.
While she still uses social media to help build awareness, any money she raises for Ukrainians now goes directly into a bank account that she herself controls.
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Fox News Digital reached out to the Better Business Bureau for insight about online fundraising and best practices. Sandra Guile of the BBB shared tips for how people can protect themselves when donating online to charities or fundraisers.
“Before clicking the donate button, only give to groups you personally know or have a connection to,” Guile said. “Read everything there is to know about the organization hosting the fundraiser and ask questions,” she advised.
Those questions include, she said, “Where is the money going? How will the funds be used?”
Since the war in Ukraine began, the BBB has warned of potential scams. Not only do fraudsters steal money from well-intentioned people, they also prevent funds from getting to the people who actually need the help.
Those looking to donate should check out Give.org for information about various relief programs, the BBB advised. The bureau also notes that it’s important to do research even before donating to established organizations.
“We are working around the clock to protect you, our donors, and fundraiser organizers, to ensure all fundraising efforts are in compliance.”
American crowdfunding platform GoFundMe, which has raised over $50 million related to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, announced on its website that every fundraiser related to Ukraine is reviewed to ensure funds are delivered to the correct recipients.
“We’re also verifying that donors and organizers are acting in compliance with US and international laws, including global financial laws and regulations and evolving economic sanctions,” the company wrote.
On its frequently asked questions page, GoFundMe addressed the Ukraine crisis — noting that moving money during a war “involves specific compliance checks.”
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“We are working around the clock to protect you, our donors, and fundraiser organizers, to ensure all fundraising efforts are in compliance with US and international laws and regulations, and within our Terms of Service,” GoFundMe wrote online.
Jurgovsky also recommends that everyone be careful when it comes to donating through the internet.
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“My advice is to donate to people you know,” she said. “If you don’t know someone, go to a church. If they’re not raising money, they’ll at least know where to send you.”
“Also,” she said, “make sure the money goes to orphanages, military needs and refugees.”
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Fox News’ Greg Norman contributed to this report.