Charity fraudsters use Help for Heroes’ popularity to help themselves

 

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The Independent Online

Criminals are profiting from people’s sympathy for the plight of wounded soldiers, with a dramatic rise in the number of reported frauds by “charities” trading on the reputation of Help for Heroes and similar organisations, police have warned.

There has been a 14-fold increase in the number of cases exploiting variations of the “heroes” theme, according to new figures. The data shows that the number of such cases reported to forces across England and Wales soared from two during the last quarter of 2012 to 29 for the same period last year.

These cases account for the vast majority of frauds relating to armed forces or veterans “charities”, which stood at 35 for the last quarter of 2013.

Commander Stephen Head, lead on charity fraud for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: “In terms of cases relating to armed forces and veterans charities, of those that we see, the largest number by a long way relate to people who have got names similar to Help for Heroes.”

There are around 350 charities which work to help soldiers, with a combined income of £400m. But they vary from the “very competent to the (frankly) ineffective”, according to Lord Ashcroft, the Prime Minister’s special representative on veterans’ affairs. His report into the transition of soldiers into civilian life was released in February this year.

A formal inquiry into the charity Afghan Heroes is currently underway by the Charity Commission, after it emerged that more than £500,000 was raised and spent in a single year – but just £15,153 went on “charitable activities”.

The charity regulator is investigating issues such as “whether, and to what extent, there was mismanagement or misconduct on the part of the trustees, in particular, financial mismanagement and/or serious governance failures”.

No report of fraud has been made to any police force regarding Afghan Heroes and there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing. A statement on the charity’s website says: “No further donations should be made to the Charity or events, fundraising or support activities undertaken.”

Cdr Head warned people to make “simple checks”, such as ensuring the charity they are giving to is legitimately registered, so that “their donation goes to the right place”.

Lord Dannatt, a former Chief of the General Staff, said: “I think the Charity Commission should keep an eye on small charities just to make sure that it isn’t people jumping on the bandwagon and that they are meeting their charitable objectives.”

David Murray, chief executive of military charity SSAFA, said: “Most Service charities that exist are 100 per cent legitimate ... frankly, anyone seeking to profit from the misfortunes of those who need our support as a result of their service to our country needs to be exposed and prosecuted.”

A spokesperson for Help for Heroes said: “We take the protection of the public’s hard-earned money very seriously and have extensive anti-fraud measures in place.

Michelle Russell, head of investigations and enforcement at the Charity Commission, said: “Most charitable fundraising is genuine, but unfortunately there are opportunist and organised fraudsters who will abuse a charity’s name and do exploit the generosity of the British public by conducting fraudulent collections.”

Fraud trial man denies Help for Heroes con

The trial of a man accused of having made more than half a million pounds by fraudulently collecting donations for Help for Heroes will start at Exeter Crown Court in July.

Christopher Copeland, 51, from Copplestone, Devon, has entered not guilty pleas to 14 counts of fraud and one of money laundering. He is alleged to have concealed £512,397 proceeds of criminal conduct between September 2009 and September 2011. He allegedly organised street collections in aid of the charity and kept the money for himself. Each count alleges he “dishonestly obtained cash by falsely representing to the general public that he was collecting money on behalf of Help for Heroes”.

The final charge alleges he concealed criminal property, knowing or believing it to be the proceeds of crime.

Additional reporting by Ellie Pipe