back to article No one would be so scummy as to scam a charity, right? UK orgs find out the hard way

UK charities are misjudging the risks of fraud, according to research from the Charity Commission and the Fraud Advisory Panel. The results showed a mismatch between practical anti-fraud protections and charities' belief in the strength of their defences: while 85 per cent believe they are doing all that they can to counter …

  1. djstardust

    Charities are a fraud

    Many "employees" paid over 100k a year, training courses in 5 star hotels, first class travel, etc.

    Haven't donated in years. Just corporate businesses that don't pay tax and expect any work done for them to be discounted or free whilst the money gets scammed off at the top.

    1. MonkeyBob

      Re: Charities are a fraud

      Any evidence for any of this?

      1. katrinab Silver badge

        Re: Charities are a fraud

        Yes

        Accounts are available for download from Charities Commission.

        Take Guide Dogs for the Blind Association as an example:

        Three employees earn between £90k & £100k. The highest paid employee earns between £170k & £180k, up from between £130k to £140k last year.

        RSPCA: highest paid employee gets between £190k to £200k + expenses of £170k.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Charities are a fraud

          The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association has an income of over £100m/year and assets of a similar amount.

          Take a look at the salaries paid to Chief Execs or other senior management of similar sized commercial companies - those salaries you quote are firmly towards the low end of what you'd expect those companies to pay.

          Why should people who have the skills and experience necessary to run an organisation of that sort of magnitude get paid less "simply because it's a charity"?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Charities are a fraud

            BECAUSE THE MONEY SHOULD GO TO THE GOOD CAUSE THAT'S WHY

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Charities are a fraud

              Unfortunately some of us live in the real word and appreciate that people have to eat.

              And that if they have any sort of commercial/business acumen then it's highly likely that others will pay more for their skills.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Charities are a fraud

            I'm not sure saying that they're paid in line with CEOs in for-profit companies is a particularly good argument.

            I don't think I've worked at any job where the person who worked hardest was paid the most, in fact, the people paid the most generally did the least. (As evidenced by how well everything ran when they were on holiday).

            1. vulture65537

              Re: Charities are a fraud

              Years ago there was a debate in the newspaper about pay in public v private sectors. Someone defended his public sector pay because of the amount of money he managed (i.e. spent). Another writer said spending money is easy and the hard work in the private sector is earning the profit.

              1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

                Re: Charities are a fraud

                the hard work in the private sector is earning the profit

                As evidenced by how many high-flying private-sector companies consistently fail to do so, I suppose. Doesn't seem to hurt the compensation of their officers, though, so I'm not sure the cited argument holds.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Charities are a fraud

          Yes, unfortunately you need to do your homework before donating.

          At a place I once worked we were given a list of charities we could donate to.

          We could choose a charity of our own but it required a few extra steps.

          Doing a quick internet search using '[charity name] + scandal' quickly eliminated many on the pre-approved list and then I looked at the percentages of what was actually paid to the charity and how much the administration of the charity took home.

          It was harder than I thought it would be and also very depressing.

          1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Re: Charities are a fraud

            Here in the USofA, when you get a call "from" a charity, it's actually from a company paid to do telephone solicitations on behalf of the charity.

            And, if you ask, they are required by law to tell you how much of what you donate goes to the charity.

            Care to guess?

            It's on the order of 15%

            That's right. 7/8 (aprox.) of what you donate goes to a boiler room solicitation company. And the "charity" itself is often a scam, named to be confusingly similar to a genuine charity - police, veterans or cancer are the popular ones at the moment. Look 'em up online and you'll find they're scams.

            Donate to someone who calls on the phone? Not bloody likely.

        3. veti Silver badge

          Re: Charities are a fraud

          The RSPCA last year took £41 million in contributions, and spent £96 million on animal welfare services (i.e. excluding fundraising, prosecutions, campaigns, science, education and lobbying). I don't know what that highest-paid employee is doing, but someone there is clearly doing something quite remarkable there in terms of getting value for money.

          1. Fred Dibnah Silver badge

            Re: Charities are a fraud

            Some charities, including by the sound of it the RSPCA, are given grants by the government because they have decided the work they do is important. Cancer research is another example.

            You could probably include private schools too, given that their charitable status means they don't pay business rates or VAT on their fees and therefore effectively receive a government subsidy.

      2. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: Charities are a fraud

        Some charities are frauds. Some are run incompetently. And some, quite a lot, are quite useful to the local area in whatever field they focus on. Trying to get an easy answer by putting them all in one box, no matter what box you pick, is certain to get it wrong for a large chunk of charities. Only by researching what a charity does and whether they're doing it honestly can you know whether it is legitimate or not.

        I volunteer my time to some charities*. When I decided to do that, I checked out the charities involved to see whether they were trustworthy. This may be tricky in some ways, because a charity can do a lot of the same things a for-profit business does without having violated its trust, including paying some people quite a bit or spending a lot of money on certain things**. And there are definitely charities that exist in a middle area where they're not manifestly perfect. But, even with that admitted, it would be harmful to say that all charities are thus.

        *I volunteer my time outside of work, but I work for a company that is definitely not charitable.

        **For example, certain charities do spend a lot of money on lawsuits or travel expenses, which would ordinarily be red flags. If the charity is a legal advocacy thing, the law expenses make sense. If the charity does field research, then the travel makes sense. But otherwise, those remain red flags. So you have to consider all the available details; there's no easy equation for whether something is trustworthy enough.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Charities are a fraud

        Worked a while back for CSDM (Chris Stoddart Direct Marketing) so yeah I can point out several that look hinky. Animal sanctuaries that only employ family and have never rescued anything being a popular business model. FYI typical return on mailshot investment is 3.4% or better over 12 weeks.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Charities are a fraud

      Many may be, but should we paint them all with that brush?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Charities are a fraud

        If they start being completely honest and open about what they pay staff, how much they raise and what they spend that money on then I will be happy to believe what they are doing is genuine. In recent years we have the rise of the chugger (charity muggers who are paid to get DD's) and the sports relief scandal where it turned out all the money wasn't actually spent on good causes but put in an investment portfolio. I wouldn't be surprised if all these national charities do the same in some kind of payback for the tax relief they get.

        Personally I give to charity but it's always a local one where I know the money is going to be used to help real people or animals for that matter. I have a local hospice I donate to and there are plenty of self run animal centres that welcome any donations of food or money. Time is also a worthwhile donation.

        1. jmch Silver badge

          Re: Charities are a fraud

          "If they start being completely honest and open about what they pay staff, how much they raise and what they spend that money on then I will be happy to believe what they are doing is genuine"

          Many charities, especially the bigger ones, do this already

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Charities are a fraud

          Sometimes figure need a little interpretation. A while ago it was reported that the Charities Commission was concerned with Samaritans because almost the whole income was eaten up by office expenses. What do Samaritans do? They seat counsellors in offices to answer phones. Offices and phones were classed as office expenses.

    3. TheFurryCircle

      Re: Charities are a fraud

      I work for a large UK charity and I certainly don't recognise any of what you suggest. In actual fact most salaries are a good 15-20% under market rates - travel is always standard and hotel rooms shared (where possible). Furthermore we have a real staff retention problem due to salaries, so if anything our issues are the opposite of what you suggest

      As for the high C-level salaries that may exist - that's more of a cultural problem we have in that they'd never fill the roles unless they did. Sure, that rather stinks, but I don't think charities can be blamed for this - I'm sure we'd all rather they didn't pay huge amounts to often usless idiots,similar to any corporation really.

    4. TwistedPsycho

      Re: Charities are a fraud

      From my personal experience though, many UK charities also have zero paid staff.

      I volunteered for free at a small local charity, after a number of years I became it's Chairman and still was a volunteer.

      I moved on from the charity to work within the national support mechanism for both the charity I chaired and 200 like it. I was a volunteer like every single person in that national umbrella organisation.

      Not a single charity at the national or local level had a paid member of staff. So not all charities are a fraud, and it those that then end up being the ones who struggle to get donations from those offended by the big internationals.

      1. tiggity Silver badge

        Re: Charities are a fraud

        Indeed

        Partner was a trustee of small charity for may years.

        In that time partner took zero pay, expenses etc.

        Partner eventually stopped being trustee for time and financial reasons after we moved location as travel to charity location and back took way too many hours and cost too much to be viable for a retired person.

        Know plenty of other small charities that do good work on a shoestring and no big salaries e.g. animal sanctuaries where income goes straight on food, vets bills and maintenance / addition of animal "accommodation" e.g. stables etc. One animal charity I particularly like you get no pay as a volunteer but lots of excellent homemade cake to keep you sustained through hard outdoor work such as cleaning out stables

    5. IGotOut Silver badge

      Re: Charities are a fraud

      I call bullshit on your figures.

      The vast majority of charities don't even have a turn over of the numbers you are talking about.

      Get off your lazy ass, go to a local charity and find out for youself how much most people earn. Most don't earn a penny for the work they do, in fact many make a fucking loss.

      My charity work COST me £100 a year.

      1. BigSLitleP

        Re: Charities are a fraud

        Right there with you. I do a normal job but i also volunteer at a local charity for kids. I get paid £0 and in fact sometimes put money in to the kitty so that the kids get a decent meal. The wife works there and gets paid £9 an hour. Even the lady running the charity doesn't take home much in the way of pay.

        Maybe stop looking at the big charities and help the small local ones that actually make a difference?

    6. the Jim bloke Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: Charities are a fraud

      Avoid the "celebrity" charities, They didnt get enough money to advertise on TV by giving the stuff away...

      A relative did some work for one of the think-of-the-poor-sick-children charities,( which i will not name as the other common feature of these organisations is a vicious legal department), and he was saying they literally had more money than they knew what to do with.

      Support your community groups, support worthwhile causes that you care about, but dont throw your money to smooth talking sales people or corporate publicity/advertising departments masquerading as social conscience.

    7. Maximum Delfango Bronze badge

      Re: Charities are a fraud

      Agree fully. In 2017, Comic Relief paid £570k in redundancy pay after a senior management shuffle. Astonishing and disgusting.

      That’s a lot of kids’ food and medicine. I’d never donate to anything other than a small local charity.

  2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    "Only 13 per cent [of frauds] were carried out by beneficiaries."

    So 87% of fraudsters do not benefit from their work? Do they do it for charity?

    "Most frauds were small scale and picked up quite quickly by financial control systems."

    The obvious lesson to be learned is do not steal a little in the hope it won't be noticed. If you take everything there will be no budget for any financial control systems.

    1. katrinab Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: "Only 13 per cent [of frauds] were carried out by beneficiaries."

      Fraud carried out by beneficiary means claiming whatever benefits are provided by the charity when you are not entitled to them.

      When you read about charity fraud prosecutions in the newspapers, it is usually employees or trustees. The did "benefit" from receiving the stolen money, but their relationship to the charity is not that of someone the charity is supposed to help, ie a beneficiary.

  3. herman Silver badge
    Devil

    Churches are even worse

    Many charities are frauds, while all churches are frauds, since they sell nonsense bronze age stories of sky fairies and ever lasting after life as truth.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Churches are even worse

      @ Herman

      Bet you love telling young children there is no such person as Santa.

      Maybe you should remember that you should never take away a persons beliefs as that may be all they have got. Especially when you can't actually prove those beliefs are wrong (or right for that matter)

      Cheers… Ishy

      1. 0laf Silver badge
        Childcatcher

        Re: Churches are even worse

        Yep, I personally know one formal accountant who sole £30k from a church by getting himself into position as a treasurer. Small charities like churches are often so desperate for help that it's quite easy to infiltrate.

        This individual avoided jail somehow. I know of other accountant who stole less and were sent down.

      2. BigSLitleP

        Re: Churches are even worse

        All religions are an equal waste of time, money and people. They damage children, tear families apart and cause nothing but pain.

        The world would be better off with them. Kinda the opposite of Santa.

        1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: Churches are even worse

          All religions are an equal waste of time

          And all people are a waste of time and oxygen.

          See? I can make stupid, all-encompassing statements too. And mine is as small-minded as yours..

      3. katrinab Silver badge
        Meh

        Re: Churches are even worse

        Santa (St Nicholas of Myra) is a real person though.

        What is wrong though is the idea that he delivers presents to every single child in the world on 24th/25th December, as other countries have different present delivering arrangements, and indeed different present delivering days.

    2. baud Bronze badge

      Re: Churches are even worse

      Well, some churches are selling Iron Age and later epoch sky fairies.

      Also some churches, organized as charities, do the same work as other charities

    3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Churches are even worse

      Well done on the 'tarring everybody with the same brush'. So you are an atheist - not everyone is. Some of us are convinced about our beliefs but are open to understanding that we might be wrong and don't stop learning and looking.

      Are you? Or are you so secure in your bigotry that you can't concieve that *you* might be wrong?

      Don't misunderstand me - a hell of a lot of harm has been done over the years in the name of religeon. And also in the name of politics - does that make *every* political party or politician evil? Or how about money? An awful lot of evil comes from the desire to get rich and damn the effect on others.

      I guess what I'm saying is that the world is far more subtle and nuanced than you seem to understand and maybe you should grow up and learn about other people and how to see things from their viewpoint rather than being restricted by your own blinkers.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mandate and CEO fraud

    i.e. scammers inside, and generally those at the top, who would have thought...

    btw, I don't trust charities, I don't engage with charities, because I don't buy their bullshit that they need to "employ" the best talents to get the best results blah blah blah, therefore they need to pay them "competitively" in the global markets, etc, etc. But hey, I'm so 19th century or even pre-industrial age about my charitable work, I do it for free, at my cost, so stupid, so... inefficient. Think BIG (myfriend), think INTERSTELLAR ENTERPRISE BIG :(

    1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: Mandate and CEO fraud

      Ummm... what?

      So you're saying charities shouldn't need to hire the best people to run their operations, because... they're a charity so somehow magically it will all work out regardless of management ineptitude?

      And those 'best people' shouldn't be appropriately compensated because its a charity, they should do it from the goodness of their heart and be paid in feel-good endorphin releases?

      Naive to think that anything other than competitive compensation will attract people (generally, I imagine there may be some rare exceptions) with the skills and experience to run a multi-million pound operation.

  5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "If they start being completely honest and open about what they pay staff, how much they raise and what they spend that money on then I will be happy to believe what they are doing is genuine."

    You mean they should do something like publish accounts? With some oversight body like the Charity Commission?

  6. davenewman

    I came across two conmen who infiltrated a charity

    They pretended to be economists. They volunteered to help the stand of a small institute at a Climate Change summit in Bonn. They gave passable speeches at a conference. One had taken the name of the CEO of a bank - but didn't look at all like his picture. Rather like in a spy novel, they had taken some pains to appear to be serious campaigning economists who had worked in the financial sector. They were so convincing I recorded videos of them for use in publicity.

    They walked off at the end of the conference with the takings from the stall and the contact list.

    Onlye later did the MD of the instituted find out that they weren't who they said they were. She tracked them down, spoke to one of them and got the money back. But they hadn't taken enough money to be worth charging with fraud.

    They live very well as conmen targeting small organisations who aren't able to spend time doing extensive checks on people's background.

    1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
      Megaphone

      Re: I came across two conmen who infiltrated a charity

      You STILL should report them to police. This kind of operation is called "organized crime" where I live and police is VERY keen to get those folks by their sad little ballsacks. Punishment is prison time as a rule.

      The fact you have witnesses and photos/videos should delight police.

  7. Norman123

    Lots of scammers in charities

    If one digs a little below the appearance, three are many scammers running charities. Check a few in the US. I know at least two directors who have gotten wealth scamming people through their nonprofits.....

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Religion

    Scamming people since Ogg found that special shiny rock thousands of years ago.

  9. Mystic Megabyte
    FAIL

    A bill from the Queen?

    I maintain a small charities' web-site. I recently received a series of "invoices" from a spoofed royal.gov.uk address. If *anybody* sends me a Word document it gets uploaded to virustotal.com and yes they got about 30 positive hits for nasty stuff. Having said that, I only use Libre Office on Ubuntu so I probably could have have opened them without being infected.

  10. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Charities are not the only ones to get hit by fraudulent email attempts

    There are a number of companies who have paid rather important sums on the basis of an "urgent" email alone. And those are companies who have a finance director who is supposed to be an actual professional, not a charity whose "finance director" is the guy who agreed to take the burden.

    After reading the above posts, I have to agree that it is hard to be sure that you can trust a charity. There are indeed many charities that are nothing but scam operations in disguise. But there are many more charities who are doing the work they proclaim. And there are some charities who are extremely important, and need to have competent people at the helm. The International Red Cross is a charity that I think is trustworthy, and I hope the CEO at the helm of that one is getting some good coin because he's got loads to do to keep things running smoothly (if they ever do in that area).

  11. Evil Auditor Silver badge

    ...85 per cent believe they are doing all that they can to counter fraud

    I fully believe the accuracy of this figure - they do all that they are able to do. Which, unfortunately, isn't that much. My limited, not representative experience with a handfull of them is that quite a few staff at charities show a can do/know all attitude and simultaneously demonstrate a total lack of professionalism and risk awareness. It is, I believe, a cultural problem for I've also seen charities/NPOs with good governance.

  12. chrishansenhome

    Churches get scammed a lot

    When I lived in America, I was Secretary of a church Vestry. The Rector presented us with a CV of a person with impeccable qualifications and he recommended that we hire him as Manager of the entire church and soup kitchen charity that the church ran (a multi-million dollar operation). Within 6 months the man was exposed as a fraud--none of the academi qualifications he claimed were true, none of the recommendations were accurate, and he'd embezzled money to pay for his daughter's wedding. Moral of that story: don't ever hire a person who will be handling money unless you've verified his qualifications.

    Here in the UK, another charity I was a director of was scammed by a temporary employee who changed the bank details for a payee to a bank account that he himself controlled. The charity lost £95K and hardly got any of it back. The person who did this was a temp worker in the controller's office whose credentials weren't adequately checked. Moral of the story: see above!

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Whitby Wildlife Sanctuary

    They did this to a wildlife charity that I support. Scummy sods took them for £13,000 and they are on the bones of their arse now. The police and banks are investigating. It's like pinching the collection tin but on a bigger scale.

    https://www.facebook.com/whitbywildlifesanctuary/photos/pb.192396984146175.-2207520000.1571742785./2724351817617333/?type=3&theater

    "We are absolutely devastated and heartbroken. Our charity has been subject to a crime and a hacker has stolen over £13,000 from us.

    A few days ago we were in contact with a regular supplier by email for our new site. Midway through conversation with the supplier, at the point where we were about to receive the invoice, the emails were intercepted by a hacker. The hacker impersonated the supplier and provided their own BACs details, masking their own identify, so our money went to the thief. A thief that knew they were stealing from a charity too. We sent payment of over £13k!

    This all came to light when the bank called us about suspected possible fraud and it has been confirmed to be true.

    We are devastated. We are only a small charity and when we have the general day-to-day costs of charity to pay for, this amount of money has taken a long time to slowly save up. All of those donations and fundraising efforts just gone.

    Needless to say, the police, Action Fraud, the banks and email providers in question have all been informed and are investigating. We hope to get the money back but the banks haven’t been able to guarantee this. We have been in contact with the suppliers, who are extremely shocked and are conducting their own investigations. We have carried out anti-spyware/malware scans (all clear) and changed all passwords and our email address.

    We are sharing this news as we feel it is important that our supporters are aware of this crime and we hope others stay safe. Please click on the actionfraud website: https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/ which give information about prevention, victim support and how to report this kind of crime.

    We are mostly upset for the animals and our new site. That money was for two very large flight enclosures, to house and home over a hundred creatures we have living here. That project will have to sadly be delayed and we will have to continue the best we can in the next few months. We will also not be able to do our annual ex battery hen rescue.

    We would like to be clear with you all that current rescue & rehabilitation work here will not be affected, nor will the care of the animals we currently have.

    Upset is an understatement and we thank you all for your kind words during this very difficult time.

    We will update you all as and when we learn more."

  14. Claverhouse Silver badge
    Meh

    “Those Were the Good Old Days”

    Charities and begging-letter writers defrauding the public was a venerable Victorian tradition.

    Charities being defrauded was equally one.

    Of course, the absence of a Welfare State induced many people to have no choice; it is not a moral good to starve to death rather than commit crime --- and very many Britons did so die.

  15. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    Who would, you ask?

    Being a charity is not a defence against fraudsters.

    Like, oh, the current US President and his family. But why quibble over stealing money from kids with cancer?

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