The Daily Mail’s front page today featured a new investigation into how some larger charities have, it claims, misused personal data of donors, some of them vulnerable people.
Under the headline ‘New shame of the charities‘, the Daily Mail Investigations Unit focuses on the case of former Army Colonel Samuel Rae. According to the journalists, ‘charities sold personal details of a dementia sufferer to conmen who tricked him out of thousands of pounds”.
The newspaper claimed that:
* “Mr Rae’s details were sold or passed on up to 200 times by charities, including to a company responsible for scams against the elderly”
* Mr Rae received 731 requests for donations from charities who acquired his name and details
* he lost £35,000 to conmen who acquired his name and details
It claims the process began in 1994 when Mr Rae completed a lifestyle survey and forgot to tick the ‘do not share my details’ box. Journalists Katherine Faulkner, Paul Bentley and Lucy Osborne wrote that “as a result, his name, address and other details have been shared or sold up to 200 times, by at least 15 charities – sometimes to conmen”.
The Mail claims that some of the charities sold or passed on the data to 12 ‘scam firms’ that ran catalogues, lottery offers and competition prize offers that targeted. Some of these were based in Australia and Canada. It was these that succeeded in persuading Mr Rae to spend £35,000 with them, according to the investigation.
It presented the processes involved in an infographic:
It included the sub-heading ‘your privacy for sale’ on the two-page spread that featured the infographic.
The newspaper claimed that 88 charities received Mr Rae’s personal data, and 15 of those passed on his personal data. Charities named in the four-page report included RSPCA, PDSA, International Fund for Animal Welfare, National Deaf Children’s Society, Cancer Recovery UK, Diabetes Research and Wellness Foundation, Unicef, British Red Cross, The Haven (formerly Breast Cancer Haven), RNIB, Action Ethiopia, and Age UK (or Help the Aged as it then was).
Charities that responded to the Mail’s claims include:
* Diabetes Research and Wellness Foundation – Chief Executive Sarah Bone said she “did not recognise” the evidence presented by the Daily Mail, adding “we nonetheless take this very seriously”.
* RSPCA – a spokesman said it was reviewing policy on supporters’ data, and said that its telephone call to Mr Rae after he asked not to be contacted was a genuine error for which the charity apologised.
Advice on data protection
The Daily Mail’s report included advice to individuals on what their rights are and what they can do to find out how an organisation processes personal data it might hold on them. It advised readers to find out how to make a request using a template letter from the Information Commissioner’s Office website.
Actions being taken
The Information Commissioner’s Office said that the evidence presented was “concerning” and would be investigating whether any charities had broken data protection laws.
The Fundraising Standards Board (FRSB), the self-regulatory body for fundraising in the UK, will also investigate the allegations about data sharing by some charities. Alistair McLean, Chief Executive of the FRSB, said today:
“It is deeply concerning that anyone, not least someone who may be vulnerable, is said to have had their contact details exploited in this way. We intend to fully investigate these allegations. It is critical that the public clearly understands how their contact details may be used, and that data sharing practices within the sector are thoroughly reviewed”.
Other Daily Mail investigations into charity fundraising
The Daily Mail, together with other national newspapers, has this year published a series of investigations into how some larger charities fundraise. These have covered issues such as:
* use of supporters’ personal data
* volume of fundraising asks received by telephone and mail
* fundraising from vulnerable people, specifically those with dementia
* tone of fundraising tactics
* use of agencies for fundraising
In early July it published an investigation over five successive days which resulted in the Government agreeing to introduce new legislation on fundraising practices. In addition, the Cabinet Office supported a review of charity fundraising methods to be chaired by NCVO’s Chief Executive Sir Stuart Etherington, which is due to report later this month.
Unfortunately, the headlines in many of these reports imply that all or the majority of the 160,000+ charities in the UK follow similar alleged practices. Today’s headline is ‘New shame of the charities’, because ‘new shame of 15 large charities’ does not have the same impact.
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