Commission in fraud crackdown

The Charity Commission is planning a series of public awareness campaigns to combat what it sees as a big increase in petty fundraising fraud.

The Commission has issued public warnings about bogus charity collections in the past, but the latest campaigns take a more proactive approach to tackling con men who invent or embellish a charitable link to dupe people into parting with their cash. It will also be the biggest initiative of its kind by the Commission to date.

The campaign will target pub chains, trading standards offices and the media with the aim of foiling and bringing to justice bogus pub flower sellers, door-to-door second-hand clothes collectors and street magazine sellers.

The scale of the problem is hard to measure. But one well-publicised case a few years ago involved a commercial company, Silverline, which raised more than ?xA3;800,000, ostensibly for charity, by sending rose-sellers around pubs, clubs and restaurants in southern England.

The Commission has recently investigated around 30 cases of second-hand clothes operators, according to spokeswoman Rachael Quilton. Usually they claim to distribute their wares in eastern Europe but the outfits handed over are sold for profit rather than given away. To further mislead, they insert a company registration number in place of the charity's registration number.

Most work in the Midlands while in Liverpool and Leeds around 15 cases of people selling bogus charity magazines on the streets have been reported recently. The usual approach in this instance is to claim proceeds go towards an unspecified special baby care unit.

Bogus flower sellers, Quilton claimed, were too numerous to count but they could make up to ?xA3;300 a night. Sometimes they donate a tiny fraction to charity and use the thank you letter as proof of their validity.

However, Martin Johnson, director of the Thalidomide Trust, has accused the commission of wasting money. He said: "I don't know of any meaningful way the commission could do anything to stop this kind of activity and it isn't their business to try. Why does it think it can do a better job than the police?"

Johnson's views were shaped in his previous post as chief executive of a regional hospice charity. He said: "We regularly got reports of bogus collectors. In every single case we notified the police and in six years nobody ever got caught.

"At what level are they going to stop crime in Britain? Companies House doesn't launch initiatives to catch petty criminals in the private sector, why should we try to do it in the voluntary sector?"

He believes the commission should stick to its role as statutory regulator rather than try to "nursemaid

the sector by getting involved in crime prevention.

The Commission, however, has vigorously defended its role, saying fraud is very much part of its remit. "It is our role to pursue companies and individuals that mislead the public into believing they are linked to registered charities. They are harming the reputation of the charities,

said Quilton.

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