Homepage | (Static sitemap) | ? Help |   Links | Contact us

 
 

A "HOW-TO-TELL" CHECKLIST:
How to decide if a collector or charity is
(a) genuine, or (b) misleading/bogus

 <---  Headings     

(Click for help) HEADINGS Arrow to bottom
<To left: double-click  |  To right>: refresh  |  [To top^: drag]

       APPENDIX - BACKGROUND :

Introduction

Example of a clothing collection leaflet
Flyer from 'The Hand of Help Ltd'

People need to know whether they're "genuine" for two reasons:

  • If they're not genuine, you don't want to donate your clothes to them.
  • If they're not genuine, the regulators can stop them collecting.

To find out if they're "genuine", first look carefully at their leaflet/bag - and look at any website they mention.  Below, we give a detailed checklist of the issues to consider.  A few of the items may sound unlikely - but they're all based on real examples.  Many of the items below are also relevant to other potential scams.

Sadly, none of the individual items below enable you to prove that it's genuine.  However, they do allow you to work out the probability of whether it's genuine.

See the Appendix below for details of what people mean by the term "genuine" when they're talking about charitable clothing collections.

Checklist

  1. Quality of the leaflet/bag - Nowadays, desktop publishing (DTP) and printing are very cheap (even full-colour).  So this is a poor guide as to whether they're genuine or not.
  2. Question mark [250w x 208]Wording - poor spelling, punctuation or grammar :
    • This makes it more likely that it's not genuine.
      (This test is also useful when you check out potential phishing emails.)
      Enjoy hunting for greengrocers' apostrophes - see Lynne Truss  
    • Bad English suggests one or more of the following :
      • The writers are poorly educated.
      • They've done it in a hurry - and not proofread it.
      • English isn't their first language.
        Often this indicates they're from Eastern Europe (especially Lithuania).
        Many of their collections aren't genuine.
    • Certain features indicate the nationality of the collectors :
      • Eastern Europeans tend to spell with a "z" rather than "s" - for instance "organization".  Also they often use the abbreviation "nr." (rather than "no.") on their leaflets.
      • Quaint or peculiar wording such as:
        "The day of your kindness: Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri"
  3. Use of printed plastic collection bags - These used to be an indication that the collector was likely to be genuine.  However, they're now very cheap to produce - and some bogus collectors are using them.
  4. Name of the charity or collector :
    • The name can be confusing.  For example "Cancer Relief UK" is a small charity - and it has no connection with well-known large charities such as "Cancer Research UK".
    • Some misleading commercial collectors use names which indicate they might be a "good cause" - eg "Hand of Help Ltd", "Helping Arms Ltd".
    • Companies are allowed to omit their "Ltd" suffix - if they use the "trading as" (T/A) facility.  Then it's not so obvious that they are commercial - for example the limited company called "EasyFundraising".
    • Occasionally you get a leaflet which has no name of an organisation.  It just says (for example) "Third world recycling collection".  Usually, these are bogus.
  5. Limited company status :
    • The good news:  This means you can check details of them with the government's Companies House   website 24/7.  Also there are certain procedural rules they have to follow - regarding registered address, directors, accounting procedures etc.
    • The bad news:  Limited company status doesn't indicate that they're reputable.
      Firstly, bear in mind that, when you set up a company, there's virtually no vetting process.
      (By contrast, when you contact the Charity Commission to set up a charity, there are stringent vetting procedures.)
      Secondly, company formation can be cheap and quick - you can buy an "off-the-peg", ready-made company (no questions asked) for well under £500 - see Google.
    • Dual status:
      a) Charities:  Some charities are also limited companies.  This is perfectly OK.
      b) For-profit collectors:  Most are limited companies - but (of course) they're NOT allowed to register as charities.
    • Some charities own trading companies.  These are used to do commercial operations, with all the profits going to the charity - eg running charity shops or clothing banks, selling Christmas cards.
      Example: Salvation Army Trading Co Ltd   - owned by the Salvation Army (a charity).
    • So, you have three alternative situations:
      1. The charity is doing the collection itself (using employees, self-employed people or volunteers).
      2. A trading-company subsidiary of the charity is doing the collection.
      3. A for-profit "commercial partner" is doing the collection on behalf of the charity
        (for example Clothes Aid (a for-profit company) collects clothes on behalf of NSPCC charity)
    • See the Companies and company information page.
  6. Charity status :
    • If the collection leaflet/bag says it's on behalf of a named charity, this is a good start.  You can check out the organisation on the website of the Charity Commission   (or telephone them).  Most charities are reputable.
    • However, some charities are inefficient or even fraudulent - and the problems can persist for years before the regulators catch up with them.  For example, see Humana and Children's Welfare Foundation (both were eventually struck off by the Charity Commission).
    • As a rule of thumb, "bad" charities tend to be small, and only recently registered.
    • See :
      - the Charities page
      - the Charities and honesty page
  7. Is it a large, well-known charity? - A collection is more likely to be genuine if it's in aid of a large, well-known charity - such as Oxfam, the Children's Society, BHF, Salvation Army or Age UK.
    However, the names of some little-known, small charities (eg Cancer Relief UK) are similar to well-known, larger charities.
  8. Royal Mail red postbox - (c) LeoPostal address of the collector/charity - If a postal address is given (say with a postcode), it's a good start.  However, it pays to check it out :
    • In some cases, the address given doesn't exist.
    • Sometimes, although the address exists, they have no connection with it.
    • Even if it is their address, it may only be an "accommodation" address   - a shop, solicitor, accountant or a mail box company.
      For example, see St Christopher's Assistance  
      (They're not clothing collectors, but they illustrate the point.)
    • Questionable collectors are often based in Essex and East London (this allows easy export to Eastern Europe via nearby container ports).
  9. A mobile phone number - These begin with a 07 code:
    • In reality, this has little or no value in terms of credibility.
    • The number may not exist.
    • Even if it exists, it may not be the collector's number.
      This happened with the counterfeit "Breakthrough Breast Cancer" leaflets in mid-2010.  (The innocent owner of the number was pestered with hundreds of calls.)
    • The number gives you no idea of the geographic location of the person you're ringing.
    • Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) numbers are untraceable.
    • When you ring the number, it may not be answered - or it may only offer voicemail.  Sometimes the voicemail box is full - this tends to indicate it's a scam.
  10. Phone (courtesy of freeimages.co.uk)A landline telephone number :
    • These begin with a 01, 02, 03 or 08 dialling code.
    • As a test of reputability, a landline number is much better than a mobile one.
    • If it's a "geographic" number (ie beginning with an 01 or 02 dialling code), you can easily look up where they are in the country - eg 0161 is Manchester.
    • You can attempt to check it out online (for free) with directory enquiries services - eg BT, 192.com.
    • However, you'll also need to ring the number - to check it exists, check they answer the call, and check that what they say is plausible.
    • Also, bear in mind you can now rent a re-routing service, whereby all calls to the number quoted are re-routed to a different phone number hundreds of miles away.
    • Beware any number with a 09 code - it's premium rate - eg £1 per minute.
    • Beware any number with a 070 code - these can be expensive to ring.
    • For details, see the page on telephone tariff rates.
  11. A website :
    • If they have a website, it makes it more likely they're genuine.  Also it allows you to check it out, to supplement the information given on their leaflet/bag.
    • However, these days, it's cheap and easy to produce a professional-looking website - either doing it yourself or getting a company to do it for you.  So the presence of a website is no longer much of an indication that they're genuine - even if it's high-quality.
    • Does the website quoted really exist? - You need to check this.
    • If it exists, is it a fake website?  This is rare - but it does happen.
      (Recently, one cheeky scammer produced a fake British Red Cross website.)
    • And even if it is a genuine website, do the collectors have any connection with the organisation running the website?
    • Top-level domain name (TLD) - This means the end of a web address.  See Wikipedia  
      - ".org.uk" or ".org" usually indicate a not-for-profit organisation.
      - ".co.uk"  or ".com" usually indicate a commercial organisation.
      However, there are exceptions - such as :
      - www.JustHelpFoundation.co.uk   - it's ".co.uk" but it's a registered charity
      - www.EasyFundraising.org.uk     - it's ".org.uk" but it's a commercial company
       
      See the Use (and misuse) of ".org.uk" web addresses page.
  12. @Email address - Beware addresses which are free or ISP-based - eg Gmail, Hotmail.  Reputable organisations tend to use their web address for emailing - eg "information@redcross.org.uk"
  13. Numbers quoted - Bogus collectors tend to list all sorts of impressive numbers and abbreviations on the foot of the leaflets.  But they can be irrelevant or misleading.  For example, they may just be registered company numbers, VAT numbers, licensed waste carrier numbers, telephone numbers or even made-up numbers - everything except a genuine registered charity number!
  14. Claims of compliance - Some of them state that they "carefully comply with all the regulations" (or similar wording).  This sounds reassuring - but it may be untrue.
  15. Use of membership logos - Many membership organisations don't vet prospective members.  Membership may merely indicate that the member has felt it worth their while to pay the annual fee.  Often the member is reputable.  But sometimes it's just a cynical ploy to "buy" apparent credibility.
    In a few cases, you find the "member" doesn't belong to the organisation anyway.
  16. xStatistics:"We give £50 per tonne to the charity" - This sounds good, but beware, this is only 5 pence per kilogram!  By contrast, if you take your clothes to a charity shop, they'll raise around 50 times as much for charity.
    See the Charity shops versus house-to-house collections page.
  17. %xStatistics:"80% of our profits go to the charity" - This sounds admirable, but it's all too easy for an unethical accountant to manipulate (reduce) the profit figure (more-or-less legally) by inflating the apparent costs.  For instance they can pay staff unduly high wages, give them excessive expenses etc - so that revenue-minus-costs leaves only a small profit.  Then, when they give most or all of this to the good cause, they're not losing much.
  18. Types of goods wanted - Reputable collectors don't ask for high-value goods such as jewellery.

Related issues

  1. Does the charity do the collections itself? - Rarely.  Usually they outsource it to a commercial company (a "commercial partner") - especially if the goods don't go to charity shops.
  2. xStatistics:Do the clothes go to the needy? - Only with less than 5% of collections - eg some by the Salvation Army  
  3. Charity shop (courtesy of Oxfam)xStatistics:Do the clothes etc go to a charity shop? :
    • Only with less than 25% of collections.
      Look out for the circular logo of the Charity Retail Association (CRA) on the leaflet/bag - with the wording: "Making the most of your donations".
    • With all other collections, the clothes are sold commercially (especially to Eastern Europe and Africa) - with some of the money going to the charity - if the collection is "genuine".
  4. Is the leaflet from the organisation quoted? - Some collection leaflets aren't from the organisation mentioned on the leaflet.  Scammers have been known to pay a dodgy printer to produce leaflets which are fake (counterfeit) copies of genuine ones - eg "Lifeboats" (RNLI).  So the bogus collector impersonates the genuine one.
    Therefore, scrutinising the leaflet isn't enough - you've also got to contact the charity and collectors.  See the Fake clothing collection leaflets and bags article.
  5. Is the van liveried? :
    • It's more likely to be genuine if it's liveried - with the name and logo of the charity (and sometimes the collector).
    • However, a few bogus collectors have the names/logos of genuine charities on their vans - even though they have no connection with them.  In one case, a bogus collector had portable magnetic signs - which he put on when he was collecting.
  6. Theft - Is the person collecting the bags the official collector? - There have been many examples of thieves picking up the bags before the official collection van arrives.  See the page on Theft of bags.  Also see Google for how this has harmed Clothes Aid  

 

Fraudsters often mimic the image of reputable organisations - realising that this fools the public - for example the wording or images.  Nowadays some bogus collectors put a warning on their leaflets - alerting people to the fact that bogus collectors are operating in the area!  So people tend to assume that the collector is genuine.

Checking them out - using the Internet

Computer mouse (courtesy of SCRAN)

To save time, check out the organisation in Google.  If they're controversial and they've been around awhile, there will be lots of articles dealing with them - on newspaper websites, council sites, forums, blogs etc.

Also :

Checking them out - using a telephone

Old BT telephone box (courtesy of freefoto.com)

You can get valuable information by telephoning key organisations - such as:

  • The charity and collector concerned.  They'll tell you if the collection really is theirs or not.
  • Your local council licensing department - ask them if the charity or collector have got a licence to collect in your area (under the House to House Collections Act 1939).  If they've not got a licence (or a National Exemption Order) - it's illegal.
  • Your local council trading standards department (TSD)
  • Citzens Advice consumer service
  • the Charity Commission
  • the Charity Retail Association (CRA)
  • Large reputable charities in the same field as the alleged "good cause".  For example, if it's cancer, try ringing Cancer Research UK, Macmillan or Marie Curie.

However, bear in mind that when you ask an organisation (such as a regulator) whether a charity or collector is suspect, often they won't comment.  It seems they're concerned about slander (defamation).

Solutions

Given all the problems we've described on this page, you may wonder what you should do next time you have some unwanted clothes etc to give away.  The best solution is simple:

Oxfam charity shop (courtesy of Oxfam)

  

APPENDIX - BACKGROUND

 

Note - We've put background information in the Appendix below - this makes the "how-to-tell" section above shorter and easier to use.  The Appendix gives further details on the topics described above - including complications and definitions.

What do you mean by "genuine"?

On the face of it, this is straightforward - are they good guys or bad guys?  Are they :

  • honest, reputable, well-intentioned etc?, or
  • questionable, misleading, bogus, scammers, criminals ...?

However, in practice things aren't so black-and-white.

For example, if you establish that the "good cause" is a charity, it's a good start.  But :
- some charities are less efficient than others (eg % percentage proceeds)
- some break the rules (albeit in good faith)
- a few are fraudulent.
For more on this, see the Charities and honesty page.

So, in practice, it's best to see it as a spectrum/continuum/range - between the two extremes.

With a "problem" collection, the key issues for regulators are:

  • Is it in the public interest to take any action?
    (bearing in mind the seriousness of the problems, staff resources etc)
  • If it is in the public interest, what action is appropriate?, and
  • Which regulator(s) should do it?
    (local council licensing, trading standards, police, ASA etc)

Does it need a licence? Has it got a licence?
. . . And how does this tie in with whether it's "genuine"?

Collection licences

House to House Collections Act 1939 - title page (Crown copyright)

For more on this, see the page called:  A clothing collection: Does it need a licence?

Summary - The law applying to this is the House to House Collections Act 1939.  Very few people know about this Act (even in trading standards or the police) - but it's a simple and effective way to control clothing collections.

Under this Act, if a collection is purporting to be for a "charitable, philanthropic or benevolent" purpose (rather than purely commercial/for-profit), it needs authorisation - by one of the following:

  • a charitable collection licence - from the licensing department of your local council, or
  • a National Exemption Order (an "NEO") - from the Cabinet Office.
    (Note:  At present, only around 44 Exemption Orders are in force - they all relate to large, well-known charities - eg Oxfam.)

If the collection has neither of these, it's illegal - and the council can intercept the collectors on the day of the collection, and prosecute them.  See the page on this called:
Charitable collections: Licensing - monitoring and enforcement

Genuine (versus licensed) - 4 scenarios (a, b, c, d)

  • The focus of the page you're looking at is the question: "Is it genuine?"
    (We refer to this as "Question 1" ("Q1") below.)
  • This is closely tied up with the question: "Does it need a licence?/Has it got a licence?"
    (We refer to this as "Question 2" ("Q2") below.)
  • However, you need to understand that they are separate issues.

Often, the "yes or no" answers to these two questions are the same when you examine a collection - in other words, "a." and "b." below:

  1. A reputable charity and collector such as Oxfam or NSPCC :
    Q1: Are they genuine? - answer: yes, and
    Q2: Are they licensed? - answer: yes
  2. A misleading or bogus "charitable" collector (eg Gotham) :
    Q1: Are they genuine? - answer: no, and
    Q2: Are they licensed? - answer: no (so it's illegal)

However, sometimes a collection passes the first test (Question 1), but fails the second test (Question 2) - or vice-versa.  Examples of these are as follows:

If the charity and collector are both genuine/reputable, they can still fail to apply for a licence (albeit for innocent reasons) - so it's illegal.  In other words:

  1. A reputable charity and collector :
    Q1: Are they genuine? - answer: yes, but
    Q2: Are they licensed? - answer: no

Conversely, occasionally a misleading or bogus collector has fooled a council into giving them a licence.  In other words:

  1. A misleading or bogus "charitable" collector :
    Q1: Are they genuine? - answer: no, but
    Q2: Are they licensed? - answer: yes

Summary table - The 2x2 table below, summarises these four scenarios "a" to "d" :

  "Genuine"?
Yes No
Licensed? Yes a. d.
No c. b.

Below is a summary of the action needed for each of the scenarios listed above ("a" to "d"):

  1. This is the ideal (problem-free) scenario - no action is needed.
  2. Enforcement action.
  3. A light touch - eg a telephone call, followed up with a warning letter confirming the position (sent by recorded delivery or requiring an acknowledgement).
  4. Revoke the collection licence (ie withdraw it).
     

"Genuine or not" versus "needing a licence" :

  • Whether a collection is genuine or not, is an issue of their honesty, real motives etc.
  • However, whether it needs a licence or not, is simply an issue (of law) - of what impression is given by their leaflet/bag (and website) - in other words, would an "average" person think the leaflet was giving the impression that the proceeds would go to a "good cause", or not?
    When deciding this, it's irrelevant whether the collectors are genuine.
    (Of course, if it does need a licence, and the collectors then apply for a licence, the "genuine-or-not" issue does become crucial.)

Genuine or not? - examples in other fields

?

This issue of whether someone (or something) is genuine, is very common - for example :

  • Counterfeit new goods - such as expensive watches, perfumes, designer clothes, CDs, DVDs, computer software.
    It's a particular problem with car boot sales, markets and street sellers.
    See the well-known campaign by Microsoft on software - called "How to Tell"  
  • Counterfeit currency - eg forged banknotes
    - See the Bank of England page on banknotes  , and their "Take a closer look" campaign.
  • Works of art - such as paintings, antiques
  • Bogus house-to-house callers - salespeople, meter readers and the like
  • Bogus phone calls - eg "boiler room" scams  
  • Internet scams - eg phishing emails

Sometimes it is literally a matter of life and death :

  • Hundreds of people died recently in Russia from drinking poisonous bootleg vodka  
  • Several people have committed suicide in the UK after falling victim to online scams - eg Jaiyue Wang  , 23 (a female student at the University of Nottingham, who lost £6,000).

Also see :