The Fundraising Regulator should assume responsibility for overseeing activity on commercial online fundraising platforms, according to the director of the anti-fraud charity the Fraud Advisory Panel.
David Clarke’s remarks came after the platform JustGiving seized control of a fundraising page on its site that purported to have been set up in memory of Aysha Frade, who was killed in last month’s terrorist attack on Westminster, after users spotted it had been started by a woman who had the same name as someone convicted of fraud.
A JustGiving spokesman said all money donated in relation to the Westminster attack would be quarantined so it could be given directly to the intended recipients rather than the people who set up the page, so was not in danger of being diverted.
Concerns have been raised about pages for unrelated causes on similar websites.
But Clarke told Third Sector the task of monitoring the legitimacy of such pages should fall to the Fundraising Regulator, even though the platforms themselves are run by for-profit companies and the causes and people raising the money are not necessarily connected to a charity.
"Independent assurance is the role for regulators," he said. "The point we’re making is that the regulator can be looking and advising on what good procedures are.
"If they’re not regulating, who checks that there are adequate procedures in place? Are we just relying on donors themselves to spot it?"
He warned that these sorts of fundraising efforts were open to exploitation by fraudsters.
A spokesman for the Fundraising Regulator said it was assessing whether or not it had responsibility for overseeing commercial fundraising platforms.
Clarke said he would be surprised and concerned if the regulator decided it should not be responsible for these sites.
"I thought that was a given," he said. "If you’re going to say, as a regulator, ‘my area is just charities’, are you looking at the big picture? The public think of fundraising as including these sorts of sites. How many think this is a private company?
"What we’ve got to think about is potential victims, the people fraudsters are looking for, the kind, benevolent people who are willing to give money."
Clarke said fundraising sites themselves needed to make better use of data analytics to identify fraud through plagiarism, stolen images and sentiment analysis, rather than leave it to users to spot suspicious content.
The spokesman for the Fundraising Regulator said: "At this point it is not clear that commercial crowdfunding or giving platforms (which are commercial operations) fall within our remit, which is first and foremost about fundraising by charities."
He said that because the regulator was currently assessing this issue, it was not in a position to decide whether or not it should investigate the Aysha Frade case.
"Where criminal activity is alleged, we refer complaints to the police as the appropriate statutory authority."
Both Clarke and the Fundraising Regulator urged any members of the public who had doubts about the legitimacy of an online appeal to raise their concerns with the online giving site as well as with the national fraud and cyber crime reporting centre, Action Fraud.
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