On Wednesday morning Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke via a video conference to the United States Congress. Speaking virtually from Kyiv, he thanked President Joe Biden for his “personal involvement” and “sincere commitment to the defense of Ukraine,” following Russia’s unprovoked invasion that began three weeks ago, but also urged the United States to increase its aid.
“Now it is true in the darkest time for our country, for the whole Europe, I call on you to do more,” Zelenskyy continued.
A day earlier Zelenskyy had addressed the Canadian Parliament. Technology has allowed the Ukrainian leader to remain in his nation’s capital even as Russian military forces seem to be preparing to besiege the city. Zelenskyy, who was an actor and comedian before he won the Ukrainian presidency with 73 percent of the vote in 2019, has embraced the power of media to rally his people.
He has managed to successfully shift between delivering statements from a podium to recording himself on a single device seemingly without professional equipment. He has become as popular on social media as many celebrities and influencers.
Who Is The Real Volodymyr?
Yet, with his success at connecting with the people, it has been reported that there are now more than 200 Zelenskyy impersonators who have popped up on Instagram, Twitter and Telegram.
While imitation may be the best form of flattery, these fake Zelenskyys are using his image, his name and his “brand” to trick individuals into sending money. This has simply become just the latest Ukrainian donation scam to hit social media.
“Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we’ve identified a major spike in profiles impersonating Zelenskyy,” said Yoav Keren, CEO of BrandShield, which provides technology to scan the Internet to analyze potential threats and detects phishing threats, online brand abuse, and trademark infringements.
“During our last scan, we detected 45 impersonators on Facebook, 39 on Twitter, 20 on Instagram, 22 on Telegram, and 155 on VK, the Russian social media platform,” Keren said in an email.
Social media scams are fairly easy to pull off, as anyone can create a fake profile online. Even as there has been a push for the social platforms to do more to policing such content, a large number of fakes and scams can go undetected.
“Between impersonations of Ukrainian President Zelenskyy on social media, hacks distributing fake messages from Zelensky, and website impersonations and typo-squatting attacks on Privatbank, Ukraine’s biggest bank, we’re seeing a broad mix of fake online profiles as well as scammers looking to capitalize off the crisis,” Keren added. “During periods of peace, cybercrime is a genuine risk to average consumers and companies and organizations looking to protect their reputation; however, during times of conflict, cyberattacks pose an even greater threat, both physically and financially, to those who are already being battered by war.”
Social media also continues to be used to spread misinformation and even disinformation, so there has been no shortage of either on the platforms. At this point, one might also expect to hear that Zelenskyy is the lovechild of Elvis Presley or that he is the mysterious Q.
“The latest incident involving Russian hackers spreading fake news of a Zelenskyy’surrender’ is just the latest example of the bigger misinformation campaign targeted at the Ukraine, and we’ve found countless other imposters pretending to be Zelenskyyasking for donations to support humanitarian relief efforts in the region. We even detected a fake cryptocurrency called ‘Zelensky’ among other crypto scams,” warned Keren.
During such chaotic times people often see the calls for help, but don’t realize they’re just sending money to scammers.
“To stay protected, you need to be vigilant and make sure that charities are carefully vetted and recognized by international organizations,” added Keren. “Only donate directly through the charity’s website and never donate through an ad or social media post. Don’t entertain requests for donations that involve gift cards and be sure to never share personal information or financial information with unknown people who are reaching out to you through phishing emails and texts.”