Financial scamming is costing the UK public approximately £3.5 billion each year. It is a problem which has developed in recent years and has hit the press because of the relationship with charity mugging, or ‘chugging’ (charities coercing people to give money). Although both scamming and ‘chugging’ result in the coercion of money from donors, they differ in approach, perception and legality. Having a charity connection gives ‘chuggers’ a sense of morality, which gives them a sense of legality, allowing them to tug on the heartstrings of consumers and persuade them, sometimes by intimidation, to part with money. Once a donation has been made, and details have been obtained, charities feel they have the right to regularly hound their donors for further contributions, and have recently been discovered to sell their details on to non-charitable organisations.
The Daily Mail’s investigation into the story of former Army Colonel, Mr Rae, highlights the relationship between scamming and ‘chugging’. Charities who acquired Mr Rae’s personal details sold them up to 200 times to other charities and list brokers who then passed them to scammers who deceived £4,000 from him.
To what extent is it a problem?
The alarming figures demonstrate the impact of this relationship and raise plenty of questions. How valuable is personal information to a charity? Why are charities selling personal information to non-charities? Where are the moral boundaries in this? What part do charities play in the scamming of vulnerable people?
What are we doing about it?
Here at the National Centre for Post Qualifying Social Work and Professional Practice we are working with Trading Standards to tackle scamming and chugging. To do this we are looking into:
- Early intervention
- The cost to victims and the knock on effect of being scammed
- Developing a sophisticated profile for a potential victim, allowing the creation of ethical mailing lists that charities and public bodies could use
- Reviewing the understanding of the Data Protection Act to make it potentially easier to remove people from databases (mail, telesales and charity approach) for the most vulnerable
- Developing good practice guides and advice for professionals working in this field and for vulnerable citizens and their families/carers.
We recognise that this will all take time, but there are steps that you can take today. You can help protect the most vulnerable members of society from this sort of exploitation. How? Have that conversation with Mum, Dad, Nan, Grandad, Aunt or an elderly neighbour. Keep an eye out for scam mail and an ear out for scam phone calls. Make them aware they have a choice as to whether to respond or not, or whether to donate or not.
Most of all, make sure they are not lonely. Time and time again, we hear how loneliness is a key factor in chugging and scamming. If we can ensure our friends and family are not so lonely, then we may be able to ensure they are less vulnerable.