May 19, 2014

    Beware the phantom charity collectors

    SHAKING money tins for charity isn't easy.

    Whatever the weather, those kids are on the streets, raising funds for worthy causes.

    The cheeky sods don't target me. They head straight for my daughter. They shake their tins, they smile and they wait.

    And she looks up and shouts: "STICKER!" It turns into an Amazonian tribal dance to the rhythmic beat of the money tin, my girl skipping and chanting: "Sticker! Sticker! Sticker!"

    "Ah, I think she wants a sticker," the charity collector says.

    "Well, I should think so," I reply. "You've been shoving them under her nose for the past two minutes. But, alas, I just gave all my change to one of your friends."

    "No, you didn't, daddy," interjects my offspring. "You didn't give money to anyone because I don't have a sticker. See? No sticker."

    "I don't think I've got any loose change."

    "Yes, you do, daddy," cries my ingenious daughter, head-butting me repeatedly in my hip pocket until something jangles.

    It's all about those damn stickers. If there are six tin shakers around a shopping centre - and they usually hunt in packs - then I must cough up cash for all of them.

    My daughter goes home covered in stickers. I wish there's one big enough to cover her mouth.

    But I'll always give whatever I've got because I am a proud member of the charity collectors.

    I once stood on the grey, damp streets of Greater Manchester shaking things. The police usually threatened to arrest me for public indecency.

    But I really did collect for charity whenever I was free on a Saturday (I was a British university student. I was always free on a Saturday.)

    It felt good doing the right thing. More importantly, I was poor and the charity organiser bought pizza for the collectors.

    One wintry afternoon, I found myself stuck outside a supermarket in Preston's town centre. Nobody goes to the Preston town centre in Britain, not even people who live in Preston.

    It was there that I discovered the surreal charity bias that exists everywhere, from Preston to Singapore.

    "Eh, lad, what are you collecting for?" an elderly woman asked.

    "Er, it says on the tin there… cancer."

    "Ah, cancer, I like that one. Here's £1. I don't like giving money to those funny charities."

    England and Singapore not only have charity collectors in common. The two countries also have fake charity collectors in common.

    On Wednesday, The New Paper reported that some unscrupulous teenagers were collecting donations without the necessary permits, producing fake nametags that came with glued-on photographs beside text that read: "I collect money for charity…that one ah."

    I made that last bit up, obviously, but I'd happily pose for a selfie with anyone who comes up with such a nametag.

    But these guys are out there.

    My wife spotted an ah beng being dragged away by the police in Marine Parade Central a few weeks ago. He had been caught posing as a charity collector.

    She called from the scene of the crime and breathlessly recounted the dramatic tale.

    "But that's just terrible," I replied down the line. "That's absolutely dreadful."

    "No, it's OK," my wife reassured me. "We didn't give him any money."

    But what I find really disappointing with these conmen is their lack of originality.

    When I encountered these guys back in Manchester, they always had a proper story to spin.

    I vividly recall one middle-aged guy who always wore a long sheepskin coat and tried to fool gullible university students (which wasn't much of a challenge, to be honest).

    My favourite run-in with him was when he said his mother had been rushed to hospital.

    "But the last time I saw you, you said your father was sick," I pointed out.

    "Oh, yeah, I meant to say my father. I'm very emotional right now. Can I get money for the bus fare?"

    "Where's your father's hospital?"

    "In London."

    "That's 250 miles away."

    "He was on holiday."

    "In London? In February? No wonder he needs medical help."

    "Look, I've got no money and I'm starving."

    "I can give you half a packet of biscuits."

    And I did. I gave him the last of my Jammie Dodgers - the British biscuit, not an American baseball team.

    He didn't even give me a sticker.