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UK charities under fire after pensioner details "sold" to fraudsters

Wednesday, September 2, 2015 - 07:14
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British charities have come under fire in recent months following the suicide of 92-year-old Olive Cooke in May, whose death was initially linked to the huge number of charity donation requests she received via mail, email and phone calls.

[LONDON] Britain's information watchdog launched an investigation on Tuesday into the charity sector, following the case of an elderly man with dementia who was tricked out of thousands of pounds after charities sold on his details to rogue companies.

Former army colonel Samuel Rae's details were passed on hundreds of times and resulted in the 87-year-old losing 35,000 pounds (S$75,627) to fraudsters who purchased the data, according to an investigation by the Daily Mail newspaper.

Mr Rae's details were passed on after he failed to tick a box on a lifestyle survey in 1994 saying his information should not be shared, the newspaper said.

British charities have come under fire in recent months following the suicide of 92-year-old Olive Cooke in May, whose death was initially linked to the huge number of charity donation requests she received via mail, email and phone calls.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) - Britain's information watchdog - said the findings relating to Mr Rae were"clearly concerning" as it launched an investigation into whether any charities had broken the law. "If charities are buying and selling personal information without any thought of the wishes of the people involved, it suggests not only a disregard for the law, but also a disconnect with the supporters whose generosity they rely on," Steve Eckersley, ICO head of enforcement, said in a statement.

The Fundraising Standards Board (FRSB), which runs Britain's self-regulatory scheme for fundraising, said it was crucial that the public understood how their contact details could be used and called for a review of data sharing practices.

Charities will be forced to draw up written agreements to protect vulnerable people from aggressive fundraising tactics, amid concerns that some charities are damaging the reputation of the sector, Prime Minister David Cameron said in July.

The Institute of Fundraising, which represents some 5,500 individual fundraisers and 420 fundraising charities, estimates people in Britain give nine billion pounds a year to charity - close to the government's aid budget - with 28.4 million out of a 64 million population giving in a typical month.

REUTERS