Doubts over some donation drives

(Left) Mr Dave Wong with a letter issued by a charity called Child Africa to show it is aware of his donation drive.
Mr Dave Wong with a letter issued by a charity called Child Africa to show it is aware of his donation drive.PHOTO: MARCUS TAN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Questions raised over fund-raising mailers claiming to benefit overseas charities

Some people here have grown wary of local appeals for donations of everyday items like newspapers, clothes and books to foreign charities. They have even gone online to share their experience of receiving fliers about such donation drives, hoping for clarification.

Eunos Crescent resident Ethan Guo, who works in the charity sector and is in his 30s, alerted The Straits Times to one such flier he received two weeks ago. He was so sceptical, he made a police report.

On April 20, he saw people collecting the donated items and said: "The people did not look like charity workers or wear anything to identify themselves as such at all."

He may be right to doubt the credibility of some of them.

For instance, a donation drive here on Oct 14 last year claimed to be by the Children's Heart Foundation, a charity in the United States, and featured the logo of the charity's Oregon chapter.

But when ST contacted the charity's executive director, Mr William Foley, he said he did not know of anyone here donating to or raising funds for it. The charity was also not behind the fliers distributed here.

  • Ruling out scams

  • Individuals soliciting donations must carry with them a Collector's Certificate of Authority when holding fund-raising activities in public places. Members of the public can request to see these certificates when approached for donations, or verify the authenticity of those collecting donations in the following ways:

    • Send an SMS to 79777 in this format - FR

    • Check on the Charity Portal (www.charities. gov.sg), or website of the Singapore Police Force (www.police.gov.sg) or National Council of Social Services (www.ncss.gov.sg)

    • Scan a QR code on the permit if it is an NCSS-issued permit

    If the fund-raiser is raising funds for foreign charitable purposes, those soliciting donations should also be able to produce a separate foreign fund-raising permit issued by the Office of the Commissioner of Charities.

    A spokesman for the office said that people who receive mailers or e-mail with donation appeals for overseas charities may need to exercise more care and do an online search to find out more about the organisation soliciting donations.

    Priscilla Goy

Although a Singapore number was listed in the flier, nobody answered calls and there was no reply to text messages.

Then there were fliers about two separate drives - Jan 30 last year and April 20 this year - to benefit the same charity called Child Africa, which helps poor children in East Africa. The first listed the collector's name "John" with a phone number. The other listed the collector's name "Dave", a different phone number and an e-mail address with a "hotmail.com" suffix.

Educator Donna Kok, 43, saw the second flier and said: "The Hotmail address flagged to me that this may not be a legitimate donation drive."

ST tried calling the Singapore numbers. "John" did not take the calls but "Dave" did, and agreed to meet yesterday.

They both refer to Mr Dave Wong, 36, who used to work in a recycling company but has been unemployed for four months.

His fliers have popped up in Eunos Crescent and Yishun but Mr Wong declined to say where else he had distributed the fliers.

FALSE IMPRESSION

If the (collectors) create a false impression through their fliers that they are from a particular charity, then they may be guilty of cheating under the Penal Code. They should state explicitly in the fliers that they are not from the charity but are merely assisting to collect donations for the charity.

RHTLAW TAYLOR WESSING PARTNER EUGENE QUAH

Speaking in Mandarin, he said his charity drive is for real and showed letters signed by the charity's managing director, Ms Julie Solberg. Child Africa, which has offices in Kenya, Uganda and Norway, replied to ST to say it is aware of donation drives here.

Mr Wong, who said he was too busy giving out fliers and collecting items to reply to e-mails and calls, said he donates about 70 per cent of the proceeds from selling the items he collects to the charity, with the rest covering operating expenses.

Under the House to House and Street Collections Act, a licence is required if a fund-raising appeal is made through "visits from house to house" - so what about these fliers?

RHTLaw Taylor Wessing partner Eugene Quah said "visit" refers to "situations where there is face-to-face contact".

But featuring the charities' logos in the fliers suggests the collectors represent the charities, he said. "If the (collectors) create a false impression through their fliers that they are from a particular charity, then they may be guilty of cheating under the Penal Code. They should state explicitly in the fliers that they are not from the charity but are merely assisting to collect donations for the charity."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2017, with the headline 'Doubts over some donation drives'. Print Edition | Subscribe