News

Giving for a bad cause?

Current system of collecting donations has 'many loopholes'

You may have seen them while you were out shopping at Orchard Road.

Teens and youths armed with clipboards and lanyards trying to convince you to buy an item or donate money for a good cause.

Some claim to be collecting on behalf of charities. Others say they work for private organisations that are not charities but social enterprises. If you bite, you end up paying them $10 for a cheap trinket like a pen, keychain or voucher.

Mr Cliff Neo, 28, has never bought from or given money to street vendors.

"I was approached by a pair of them before, but the other legit peddlers seemed to know that they were scammers," said Mr Neo.

"They nearly came to blows. One group went, 'Eh, excuse me, you don't have licence, why you here? You don't come and spoil market okay!'"

It is a crime to collect donations in the name of registered charities without necessary permits. (See report above.)

SUPPORTING DISABLED

One company known as Build A Smile Foundation claimed to be supporting Mouth And Foot Painting Artists (MFPA), a company that sells works of art by disabled artists.

They would buy stacks of gift cards from MFPA and resell them on the street for a profit, using their name and cause as a selling point.

But MFPA told The New Paper that it does not consider itself a charity.

It also said it attempted to lodge a police report against Build A Smile Foundation for dishonestly reselling their products, but claimed it was advised that no action could be taken unless the touts were caught red-handed.

According to Build A Smile Foundation's website, the touts have since ceased operations. When TNP visited the address listed on the company's website, their offices were locked but the lights were on inside.

A middle-aged man who declined to be named told TNP: "If you're looking for a job, there are better opportunities elsewhere."

When asked to elaborate on the company's activities, he said before hurrying away: "I can't say much. The law has many grey areas."

SOCIAL ENTERPRISE

In our encounter with a peddler, he told us that he was not raising money for charity.

Instead he was working part-time with a "social enterprise" called Independant A to earn money for himself.

He then attempted to sell us vouchers for a pet accessories shop.

When contacted, the director of Independant A, Mr Andrew, who declined to give his last name, said: "Don't mix us up with the fake charities people. Our guys are very educated, they are taught to say that they are not a charity.

"My number is always there (on the form). If people have any issues, they can always call me to verify."

Mr Andrew claimed his company hires mostly former offenders or youths from low-income backgrounds.

THIRD PARTY

Then there is Alliance Career Entrepreneurship (ACE), which had raised funds for En Community Services Society (ECSS) which helps dysfunctional families.

ACE representatives were seen selling products on the day TNP visited Orchard Road last month.

ECSS executive director Carol Tan said her charity had an agreement with ACE to raise funds for them. ACE's license to raise funds was valid from Feb 10 2014 to May 10 2014, according to ECSS' website.

ACE donated a fixed sum of about $3,000 a month to ECSS, said ECSS' project director Patrick Oh, 50.

But ACE was not supposed to solicit donations using ECSS' name, as the profits ACE earns from street sales go to ACE first, said Mr Oh.

ACE's marketing director, Mr Cavin Tan, said it makes about $12,000 from sales a month.

ECSS has received numerous complaints and queries from the public since they started using ACE, a third party, as a source of income.

Mrs Tan believes this is because of other fake charity groups making the public suspicious.

Sounding frustrated, she said: "The wicked people out there should be more considerate so that us volunteers can do our work.

"I am not a sales staff, I just want to help people... Nowadays I get so many calls, if I see a missed call from an unknown number, I won't reply."

LOOPHOLES

Mr Oh said the current system of collecting donations has many loopholes, including permits that are easy to forge.

Together with Mr Tan, he is proposing amendments to the current form to have certain features that can help the public to authenticate the licence, including a QR code that links to the charity's website and the inclusion of the Singapore Police Force's emblem.

"We hope to come up with a system that can benefit all parties and assure donors," he said.

They style themselves as 'social enterprises'

They don’t use the words “charity” or “donation”.

But they style themselves as "social enterprises" so they can collect funds.

When Sarah (not her real name) heard that her friend was earning $100 to $200 a day doing "direct sales", her curiosity was piqued.

But when she was led into an office with about 30 other youths and met the boss, she had second thoughts.

"I'm sure there's no need to tell you what this job is about. Just ask your friend to teach you," she was told.

The job involved selling cheap trinkets to members of the public for $10 apiece. Each sales agent had his or her own pitch.

Some would say they were former convicts from the Yellow Ribbon Project.

Others claimed to be students working part-time to support themselves or supplement their families' income.

After watching her friend in action, Sarah decided not to join as she felt it was not an honest way to make money.

"I understand if they need the money, but if you have a pair of hands and legs, you're physically all right, you might as well go work at McDonald's or KFC. At least it's decent," she said.

SELL FOR PROFIT

Mr Johnny Chua (not his real name), 21, worked for a similar company and was told never to claim to represent a charity, but to say that proceeds from his sales would go to "support" several organisations.

Mr Chua would go on the street to sell trinkets such as touchscreen styluses for a profit.

"The average daily take is $200, sometimes more," he said.

Mr Chua was told that part of the money he brought in would be donated to charities like the Singapore Children's Society (SCS) and the Bishan Home For The Intellectually Disabled.

But when The New Paper called to check, an SCS spokesman said it had received only a one-time donation of $1,000 from the company.

SCS added that they had a memorandum of understanding, but it was prematurely terminated due to complaints from the public.

Bishan Home said it had not received donations from the company and were not aware of the company's existence.

But Mr Chua thinks the bad publicity is the fault of the individual sales agents, not the company.

"Clarifying that we are a business and not a charity in our sales pitch has been told to us again and again, but sales staff still use the terms interchangeably to solicit empathy from customers," he said.

"I would say that it's more likely the fault of the sales staff and not the company."

ARE THEY LEGAL?

The Commissioner of Charities (COC) has received feedback twice last year about teenagers claiming to represent Build A Smile Foundation and selling items to the public.

The spokesman for the COC's office said these teenagers had claimed it was to benefit the underprivileged. The spokesman said: "(Engaging in) bogus fund-raising activities is tantamount to cheating and is a crime."Here are some ways to tell true from false:

CHARITY FUND-RAISERS

WHO: These are people authorised by registered charities to collect donations on their behalf.

They can be part of the charity organisation, or staff from a company that has been hired by charities to collect donation on their behalf.

HOW TO TELL: They have a licence issued by either the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) or the police.

HOW PEOPLE CAN CHECK:

  • Text "FR
    " to 79777 to find out whether the NCSS/ police licence number is valid.
  • Scan the QR code on the permit, which goes directly to an online search facility of fund-raising permits approved by NCSS.

DIRECT SELLERS

WHO: They do not collect for charity, but sell things to you on the streets for profit. They are not allowed to say they are raising funds for charities.

HOW TO TELL: They have a licence from the National Environment Agency (NEA) or a special logo on the business card.

HOW PEOPLE CAN CHECK:

*They show an A4-size street hawking licence from NEA.

*Have a Direct Selling Association of Singapore (DSAS) logo on the business card if seller is a DSAS member.

TOUTS/ SCAMMERS

WHO: They claim funds go to charity, but have no licence or a fake licence.

HOW TO TELL: Unless they have the permit stated in (1) or (2), they are selling things illegally.

If you suspect a fraudulent case, lodge a police report.

- Koh Hui Theng