Bogus charity collector uncovered in the town

Gatwick Campaigners

Police this week warned shoppers to be on their guard against bogus charity collectors in the town after the Times uncovered a scam that could have tricked people out of ‘tens of thousands of pounds’.

At least one ‘chugger’ has been operating in the pedestrian precinct of Tunbridge Wells asking for money for The Happiness Foundation, which helps individuals overcome anxiety, depression, trauma and abuse.

The charity, based in Lowestoft, has never used street collections to raise funds and has never authorised anyone else to do so on its behalf.

The issue came to light when a female office worker was last week verbally abused by the man when she walked past as he was trying to collect money.

The young woman, who we have chosen not to name, alerted the police and this newspaper to what had happened.

Another individual also voiced concerns to this newspaper about the collector, who was said to be around six foot tall and in his 30s.

The Times discovered that it was not an isolated incident and that more than 30 similar incidents have happened across the country.

The founder of The Happiness Foundation, Kathryn Temple, said: “Those 30 cases are probably just the tip of an iceberg. Imagine all those people who have been verbally abused and harassed and not complained. Then imagine all those people who have given money – it could run into tens of thousands of pounds.

“It’s difficult to describe just how we feel at what these collectors are doing in our name, and we do believe it is more than just one person.”

She said the foundation had received complaints of verbal abuse by collectors from numerous locations, including Ashford, Bromley, Wolverhampton, Lincolnshire and Staffordshire.

“I have spoken to various police forces trying to get some action to end the abuse but have been told that they could do nothing as I was not the actual victim.”

The incident in Tunbridge Wells happened near Marks & Spencer in Calverley Road last Tuesday lunchtime.

The young woman said: “I had just been walking along the street answering a call on my mobile and as I passed this charity worker he suddenly shouted out ‘drama queen’ for no apparent reason. I had not even been looking at him. It really shocked and upset me.

“I later went back to him and asked him what charity he worked for, as I was not happy about being abused in the street.

“He just started screaming at me that he was being sexually harassed by me. I could see he was wearing a badge from The Happiness Foundation.

“It left me feeling shocked. I felt intimidated, so I reported it to the police.”

She described the man as wearing a beanie hat, dark jeans and fake leather coat.

The Times passed on to the police information on the possible extent of the issue.

A police spokesman later told us: “Kent Police was called at 12.55pm on Tuesday 16 February to reports of nuisance behaviour in Calverley Precinct, Tunbridge Wells.

“A woman complained about the conduct of a man approaching people and reportedly asking for subscriptions or donations to an organisation called The Happiness Foundation.

“Officers attended the area and spoke to the man concerned, who presented what appeared to be valid identification.

“Police have subsequently spoken to The Happiness Foundation, which has expressed concern that people may be fraudulently using its name to operate illegally. Officers will be closely monitoring the precinct area and shoppers are advised not to engage with anyone claiming to represent The Happiness Foundation and to call 101 if approached.

The borough council said it had entered into a voluntary agreement with the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association over rules governing charity collectors.

A spokesperson for the association said: “We want to make it clear that this individual is not a member of the association, nor do they belong to any charity that we are aware of. We would advise anyone who sees this individual to report them to the police as we believe they may be engaged in fraudulent activity.”

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