A gang of bogus charity collectors has been jailed by Southampton Crown Court. The five gang members had scammed people at pubs and clubs in Southampton, and raked in at least £26,000 over three years before they were caught.
So how were they caught out, and how can you avoid being scammed by people like this?
The gang were Gordon Coe, a 65-year-old former pub landlord from Millbrook Road East, Pauline Hunt (55), Susan Christians (65 of Drapers Copse) and Kim (45) and Ben Chapman (43, both from Pennine Road). The gang - all from Southampton - pretended to be from Marie Curie Cancer Care, carried fake ID, and convinced people who were out on the town to part with their money.
Sarah Dineley, District Crown Prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service Wessex, told AOL: "For three years, Gordon Coe and his four other accomplices, all from Southampton, thought they had masterminded the perfect scam, going through Southampton pubs and collecting money on behalf of the well respected end of life charity, Marie Curie Cancer Care."
"Greediness and the appeal to make easy money pushed Coe, the ringleader, to apply in 2008 to the charity as a volunteer fundraiser. After being vetted, a representative of the charity visited the ring leader at his home address and gave him collection tins, a paying-in book, t-shirts, an ID badge and a receipt book on the understanding he would collect in the Southampton area. He was given strict instructions on how and where he should collect the funds.
"However, our evidence showed that Coe did not respect this agreement right from the beginning and over those three years, he enrolled four others into his scam. The two men and three women whose ages ranked from mid-forties to mid-sixties did not express any remorse about taking pub goers money donated with the intention that it would go to the respectable charity."
According to the Daily Mail, they went on 260 collecting raids - collecting around £100 a time. However, there was also £40,000 of unaccounted-for money collectively in their bank accounts.
They were scuppered when a pub landlord had his suspicions about one of the gang collecting with a tatty old tin. He rang the charity, which contacted Hampshire Police.
They were all jailed for at least a year - while ringleader Coe was jailed for four years after pleading guilty to conspiracy to defraud and concealing financial transactions. The judge said the sentences were intended not just as a punishment, but as a deterrent to anyone else considering this sort of scam.
According to the Daily Express, Judge Derwent Hope, Honorary Recorder of Southampton, said: "This is a shocking case of fraud in which the public and a charity have been abused. No one will ever know the true loss to the Marie Curie fund. I am satisfied they are a wonderful charity who bring relief to terminally ill people and their families, while properly accounting what they receive from generous donors. That is why at the heart of this case there has been a massive breach of trust from each one of you, not just to the members of the public you targeted in public houses but also the Marie Curie fund you defrauded."
Dineley added: "This case sends a strong message to whoever is plotting a scam and thinking they will never be caught. We would like to thank all the witnesses in the case and would like to emphasise that the great work of Marie Curie Cancer Care charity should not be tarnished by the criminal acts of the defendants in this case."
So how can you protect yourself from bogus charity collectors?
Those involved in this case - including the charity - are keen to emphasise that the vast majority of collectors are genuine, and we must not let this put us off from making donations.
However, it pays to ask a few questions before you give. We offered a guide to spotting bogus collectors in February. However, as a bare minimum it's worth asking to see ID and documents from the charity confirming they are collecting legitimately. If in doubt, it's worth waiting until you get home and then donating online direct to the charity instead.
Revealed: The 10 most common scams
Bogus charity collectors jailed for stealing £26k
More than 12 million pieces of personal information were illegally traded online by identity fraudsters in the first quarter of 2012 alone, according to data from Experian CreditExpert- outstripping the entire of 2010.
The vast majority (90%) of this illegally traded information is password and log in combinations - a result of the spiralling number of online accounts many of us now have. Research shows the average Brit uses around five different passwords online, but with an average of 26 different accounts each – this is nowhere near enough protection.
"Using a different password for each account will minimise risks, but if password information is stolen from a website, all accounts using the same details will be compromised, and this information can spread among fraudsters rapidly," warns Peter Turner, managing director at Experian Consumer Services in the UK and Ireland.
Credit and store cards continue to prove particularly attractive to fraudsters and 2012 year has seen 73% surge in the takeover of plastic card accounts by criminals with nearly one quarter of all identity frauds, and 36% of all account takeovers, taking place on these cards.
Richard Hurley, communications manager at CIFAS explains the threat: "Whether it is through using an innocent party's details to open a new account in the victim's name, or hijacking the victim's details and taking over existing accounts, the modern fraudster will continue to pay specific attention to credit and store card accounts as an easy way of obtaining funds and goods, while leaving someone else to pick up the bill."
As if the mis-selling of payment protection insurance (PPI) wasn't scandal enough, 2012 has seen fraudsters preying on PPI victims. Consumers have received phone calls from someone who knows their name, announcing that they have won their PPI claim. The caller may also know the lender's name and an estimate of the loan amount.
However, the caller will then request a payment from the consumer in order to receive their compensation. This should signal warning bells, but many innocent victims have fallen for the scam and parted with money only for the bogus firm to disappear with their cash, and of course the compensation that never existed.
Consumers should be wary of all cold calls, particularly those that request cash upfront. There is no need to pay to make a claim for mis-sold PPI – you can claim direct to your bank for free and receive free advice from debt charities like Citizens Advice and the Consumer Credit Counselling Service.
If you do choose to take on the assistance of a claims management firm – never agree to an upfront payment. Reputable firms will only request payment for their services once you have received your compensation from your lender either by cheque or by payment into your bank account.
Phishing – when an unsolicited email arrives in your inbox requesting details to your personal accounts – continues to rise, leading to a surge in online banking fraud. Online banking fraud losses totaled £21.6 million during January to June 2012, according to CIFAS - a 28% increase on the 2011 half-year figure.
The emails trick customers into visiting fake banking websites – often made to look startlingly similar to the real thing - and disclosing their online banking login details. Online banking customers are also being tricked into divulging their bank login details and passwords over the phone to someone they believe is from their bank but is actually a fraudster.
The key point to remember is that banks will never contact you by phone or email and ask you to disclose your details, so always beware correspondence of this nature. Consumers should also be cautious of emails purporting to be from government bodies such as HMRC, or other financial accounts, such as Paypal.
There were over 50 different scams known to the 2012 Olympic Committee, with fraudsters cashing in on the good-natured spirit of the Games and nationwide scramble for tickets. The vast majority of scams took the form of phishing emails – purporting bogus job offers; prize draws; lottery wins and complimentary tickets – all with the sole purpose of duping consumers into sharing personal details or parting with cash in order to claim prizes.
Official tickets for the London 2012 Games were only available for purchase through the London 2012 website and appointed ticketing partners, so any other sources were offering fake or non-existent tickets. As for competition prizes and lottery wins – consumers should remember that it is impossible to win a competition or draw that you did not knowingly enter and that if a prize seems too be good to be true, it probably is.
Insurance is an incredibly complex area of personal finance and different forms of cover are riddled with different hitches that make it crucial to read the small print. Failure to do so could lead you to pay for a product you would be never be able to claim upon, or unknowingly do something that invalidates your claim.
Always buy the right level of cover for your needs and pay close attention to any exclusions in the policy wording. For example, many travel insurance policies for winter sports won't pay out for treatment of injuries incurred while under the influence of alcohol.
Surely the lowest of the low, charity donation fraud – when fake charities play on our sympathy by requesting donations to a worthy cause – is on the rise. Donation requests come in the form of unsolicited emails; phone calls; house visits or being approached in a public place. In many cases, donation requests are linked to a high-profile event, such as Hurricane Sandy that wreaked havoc across America last month.
Either the charity that the fraudster has asked you to donate to doesn't exist, or they are misusing the name of a genuine, often well-known, charity and pocketing your money.
Don't let fraud risks put you off donating – just make the necessary checks to ensure your money is going to the intended cause. Genuine charities are registered with the Charity Commission and print their registration details on all documentation, collection bags and envelopes, so check these details exist and if in doubt, contact the Charity Commission to confirm that they are authentic. Call the helpline on 0845 300 0218 or check the online charity register by visiting charity-commission.gov.uk.
Cases of cash machine fraud, where a device is used to trap money inside the ATM machine, have increased more than 15-fold in London in the past three months. Reported incidents have risen from 150 across the UK in May, to 2,500 in London alone in August, according to figures from Link and London's Dedicated Cheque and Plastic Crime Unit (DCPCU).
Criminals insert a device called a cash claw behind the guard on the cash drawer of an ATM. The device is undetectable to the public, who use the machine as normal until their cash fails to eject.
"The machine goes out of service and then the criminal comes along, forces open the drawer using a pair of pliers or a screwdriver, forces the device out of the cash machine, bringing the customer's money with it," explains Detective Chief Inspector Dave Carter, head of the DCPCU.
Customers are advised to immediately report any banknotes undelivered from cash machines.
Rogue property developers selling land that they claim has great investment value, when there is little or no chance of it ever being developed, are on the rise again this year. Investigations have lead to a number of convictions in 2012, yet consumers are warned to be remain wary of this big money scam.
Land banking involves plots of land offered for sale, often online, with the promise of sizable returns when planning permission is approved for housing or other development. Yet often the land is located in areas protected from development by planning law.
The companies involved soon disappear with investors' money and as the firms are not protected by the Financial Services Authority, their funds are not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.
In October, PhonepayPlus (the UK's premium rate telephone regulator) fined two firms a total of £450,000 for running a series of voucher scams on Facebook.
The scams, which claimed to offer free vouchers and supermarket gift cards for Tesco and Asda, resulted in members of the public signing-up for expensive premium-rate phone services.
The scams relied on Facebook users innocently sharing or liking the voucher promotions on their status, which included the promise of a voucher worth up to £250 for major retailers. After clicking on the promotion consumers were duped into participating in premium rate competitions, which involved questions sent to their phone at a cost of £5 each.