Fundraisers track charity collection thieves

Fundraisers are employing motorbike teams to follow the growing number of thieves who are taking clothes intended for charity shops.

There has been a significant increase during the past 18 months in the number of criminal gangs stealing bags of donated goods before the legitimate collectors arrive, according to Clothes Aid, a company that carries out doorstep collections for charities such as Great Ormond Street Hospital and the Make A Wish Foundation.

The company estimates that Great Ormond Street Hospital has lost about £200,000 in the past year because of bogus collectors. It estimates the total cost to the sector is between £2.5m and £3m a year.

“In London, we have motorcycle teams following the bogus collectors and there have already been 85 arrests this year,” said Steve Kirby, operations manager at Clothes Aid. “This is something that we might try in other areas, including the north-east. The bogus collectors range from small-time thieves who keep the good stuff for themselves and sell the rest at car-boot sales, to organised gangs that sell the clothes on to dealers and make a fortune.”

A hotline has also been set up to help tackle the problem. Members of the public are being encouraged to call if they have any suspicions. When reports are telephoned in, legitimate collectors are informed and asked to try to track the culprits to their base before informing the police.

The Great North Air Ambulance said it had also been the target of bogus collectors. “This is definitely a problem; we're very lucky that the police are behind us and very supportive,” said a spokeswoman. “The problem is, they have to catch them red-handed. We ask members of the public to be vigilant.”

Clothes Aid is so concerned about the problem that it met the Association of Charity Shops last month with a view to developing a central alert scheme to stop bogus charity collectors.

The aim is to establish a database that would allow bona fide charity collectors to log and share information on suspicious activity across the UK for lobbying purposes and to provide intelligence for arrests.

The Clothes Aid hotline is 0870 60 74 600.

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