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Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) news release

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ASA General News Release

General: ASA warns of "charity" ads that don't add up - 05/12/2002

Consumers wanting to give to charity in the run-up to Christmas could become unwitting victims of unscrupulous advertisers, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) warned today. The ASA has received a series of complaints from members of the public about door drop leaflets and regional press ads appealing for charity donations that misleadingly imply the advertisers are a registered charity.

One such leaflet, distributed by HK & Associates, read:

"Can you spare your old unwanted clothes for the people of Eastern Europe? All items collected will be distributed in Charity Shops in Lithuania, Ukraine and Belorussia."

Another, dropped through letterboxes by Golden Tree Union Ltd, said:

"Not everyone and especially young families can afford to buy new, often expensive clothes and household things. Thank you for helping us to help others."

The leaflets failed to make clear that donated items would be sold for profit by the advertisers.

Last week, the ASA upheld complaints that a local press ad for North East Community Link, based in Newcastle, misleadingly implied that the advertiser was a charity that gave free furniture to the homeless.

As a result of these adjudications, the Compliance team, which is responsible for ensuring that advertisers comply with the rules governing non-broadcast advertising, is working with publishers of newspapers, magazines and other media owners to stop these misleading advertisements from appearing.

ASA Director General Christopher Graham said:

"Companies who advertise in this way are exploiting the public's goodwill in order to generate profit for themselves. By stating that donations will be distributed to those in need or by adding a misleading business registration number to door-drop leaflets, they are attempting to pass themselves off as genuine charities."

The ASA's warning coincides with the launch of the Charity Commission's seasonal 'Safer Giving' campaign. Simon Gillespie, Director of Operations at the Charity Commission, said:

"We welcome the ASA's move to warn members of the public about bogus ads for clothing collections. There are cheats who prey on the generosity of people - especially at Christmas but charity fraud is rare. This week we launch our nationwide safer giving campaign, which helps members of the public to donate safely to genuine charities. Our message is 'Be generous but be wise. And don't get caught out by the Christmas conmen'."

[end of news release]   Source: Advertising Standards Authority

For clarity, we (CharityBags) have added :
(1) bold to a few key names in the body text above, and
(2) some carriage returns and background tone to separate out the four quotations.

Comments by CharityBags on the news release reproduced above

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Our thanks to the Advertising Standards Authority for permission to reproduce the document.

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Our comments on the content of the ASA's news release

  1. It's seasonal - the first and last paragraphs refer to Christmas - a time when charity-giving increases.
     
  2. Three examples are given :
    • HK & Associates - leaflets through letterboxes - see below
    • Golden Tree Union Ltd - leaflets through letterboxes
    • North East Community Link - local press ad, asking for furniture - see below
       
  3. The 'HK & Associates' leaflet - We assume this is the one we've seen which says it's from an organisation called 'Gotham'.  This has been the subject of several press releases, articles and a TV programme.  There are several pages on our website relating to Gotham.
     
    Note the ASA have chosen to refer to 'HK & Associates' as the leaflet distributor, rather than Gotham.  The business/company registration number given on the leaflet we've seen indeed turns out to be for a company called HK & Associates - but we understand they deny any involvement with the leaflets.
     
  4. The 'North East Community Link' ad - interesting points :
    • It was a misleading ad in the local press.  This is very unusual.  Almost all the misleading ads described on our site are door drop leaflets.
    • The request was for furniture - not clothes.  Again, this is unusual.
    • The furniture was to be given away to needy people, rather than sold to raise money for needy people.
       
  5. Regulators - It refers to only one other regulatory agency - the Charity Commission.  There's no mention of local council licensing departments, the police or trading standards departments.
     
  6. The final paragraph can be seen as a "mini press release within a press release". It outlines the launch of the Charity Commission's seasonal "Safer Giving" campaign.  This is a commendable example of co-operation between different agencies.
     
  7. Note the critical words used to describe the collectors, including :

     "unscrupulous ... misleading ... exploiting ... bogus ... cheats ... fraud ... conmen."
     
    See the page on Definitions of words.