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Tis the season... to be on your guard!
Tuesday 22nd December, 2009

Christmas has come early for the charity clothes scammers who are reportedly still busy bagging sackloads of garments from generous Wigan house-holders.

But these donated gifts aren’t going to the needy…

Instead, the income generated from the commercial recycling of your unwanted clothes is lining the pockets of those unscrupulous con-merchants who take advantage of your goodwill.

Wigan Council’s Trading Standards’ team has become increasingly alarmed about the growth in bogus clothes collections. As the gangs become more sophisticated, a further development has seen a number of old collection bags belonging to some reputable, registered charities also being used by the scammers.

“What usually happens is you get a leaflet or bag through the door saying that there is going to be a collection of old clothes in your area and that all donations will be sent to third world countries to help clothe people in need,” says Cllr Paul Prescott, Wigan Council's champion for lifestyles with responsibility for licensing and regulation.

“Whilst some may be genuine, other commercial practices involve using deceitful techniques like this to collect goods that are then sold and exported for a profit. It is a shame that the generosity of spirit and goodwill of local people, particularly at this time of year, is being exploited in such a cynical way.”

The leaflets typically use language like: ‘Homeless Eastern Europeans With Low Incomes Need Your Help’ and ‘A Work Creation Project’.

A good way to tell the difference between real charities and the con-merchants is to make sure the organisation’s full details, such as address and telephone number, are on the leaflet. It should also have a registered charity number. Better still, if you can, call the charity or check out their alleged websites and see what information is available. You might be surprised at some of the comments left by concerned residents.

“Commercial companies can collect on behalf of a charity but they must state how much of the donation will go to the charity,” says Chief Trading Standards Officer, Julie Middlehurst. "The charity should also be named on the fund-raising material. Organisations that are collecting house-to-house may need a permit from the council so people should check they have one.”

They may even carry false charity IDs making it very difficult to tell a fake charity collector from a genuine one.

Julie adds: “We live in a society where people are very willing to put their hand in their pocket and donate to charities but this also means that there are plenty of people out there willing to exploit the generosity of others for their own selfish gain. We don’t want people to be put off giving to charities but with a bit of information you should be able to make the right choice.”

The easiest way to avoid falling foul of the charity collection scam is to give directly to the charity of your choice, and to hand your donations, be that money or goods, into high street charity shops.

Further advice on dealing with charity collections includes:
  • Be wary, especially collections in the wake of big disasters that get a lot of media attention.
  • Check with the charity that there is a campaign going on or that they’ve authorised the campaign you are being asked to contribute to.
  • Do not donate cash. If you want to make a money donation, write a cheque and make sure you get a receipt with the name of the charity on it
  • Do not give in to pressure about suggested donations or minimum contributions. You decide what you want to give, whatever it is will be appreciated.
  • Make an informed decision. The best way to avoid charity scams is to decide in advance which ones you want to support and contact them. Then you gracefully turn anyone else down secure in the knowledge that you’re doing your bit to help something you believe in.

If you are unsure about a charity you can contact the Charity Commission on 0870 333 0123 to see if it is registered.

For more information and advice on a range of consumer-related issues call Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06 (calls charged at local rate).

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