Bogus doorstep charity bag fraudster sent to prison
Today, at Bristol Crown Court, Darius Kaminskas was sentenced to thirteen months imprisonment after pleading guilty to an offence of carrying on a business for a fraudulent purpose, which is a breach of the Companies Act 2006. He was also disqualified from being a company director for seven years. This follows an investigation led by the South West Scambusters Team, which is a specialist Trading Standards team investigating cross-border consumer offending regionally on behalf of the fifteen authorities in the South West, or nationally as directed by the National Trading Standards Board (NTSB).
The NTSB brings together trading standards experts from services across England and Wales to prioritise, fund and coordinate national and regional enforcement cases. It is responsible for gathering intelligence from around the country to combat rogue traders and tackle priorities such as internet scams, illegal money lending and other issues that go beyond local authority boundaries.
Kaminskas, a 25-year-old Lithuanian national currently living in Horfield, Bristol, established the business of Sparco Limited in April 2010. Between that date and December of the same year his company used charity collection bags which were designed to resemble those used by legitimate and registered charities in order to collect clothing door to door from unsuspecting members of the public, who thought they were donating to well known good causes.
The bag attracting most complaints was one bearing the word ‘Bernhardos’ as it caused members of the public to confuse it with the genuine UK children’s charity Barnardo’s. This was compounded by the use of the same green colour bag, text and appearance as the long-established charity, with many of the phrases similar to those used by Barnardo’s.
Between August and September 2010 Barnardo’s received well over 100 complaints from members of the public who were concerned that the bag was misleading or who had donated clothes to Sparco thinking they were giving items to Barnardo’s.
The complaints were initially reported to Wiltshire Trading Standards and later investigated by the South West Scambusters Team, who obtained witness statements from householders in Wiltshire, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire, Dorset, the West Midlands and Somerset.
Kaminskas had also been involved with delivering collection bags bearing the pink ribbon commonly associated with breast cancer charities. The particular version Kaminskas delivered used the trademark of a Lithuanian charity tackling breast cancer by the name of Azzara. Kaminskas had legitimately collected on behalf of Azzara some months before his arrest, when employed by a genuine collection firm contracted to Azzara. When Kaminskas set up Sparco Ltd in 2010 he produced and distributed collection bags that were very similar to the genuine bags. Both the breast cancer bag and the Bernhardos bag claimed to donate £50 for every tonne of clothing collected; this was untrue.
Kaminskas made his money by taking the clothing he had collected in the deceptive charity bags and selling the clothing to wholesalers in Lithuania where there is a thriving market in second-hand clothes. Kaminskas received approximately 50p per kilo for the clothes and is suspected to have received over £50,000 during the 9 months that the scam operated. Some of this was used to pay his workers but a proportion of it went straight into Kaminskas’ pocket.
In May 2011 the South West Scambusters Team, supported by officers from Avon & Somerset Police, executed 2 warrants at premises in Horfield, Bristol connected to Kaminskas. A large amount of evidence was seized including thousands of charity bags, leaflets and documentation. Also seized was a laptop belonging to Kaminskas which contained on it scanned images of at least 38 different charity bags, including scans of six different Barnardo’s bags.
Kaminskas did make two donations to organisations in Lithuania totalling £900, but it is believed that this was done only after complaints were received in order to justify his actions. Kaminskas also claimed that the name of a church in Lithuania to which he gave some of this money translated as Bernhardos but evidence was obtained from Lithuania to show this was not true.
Kaminskas used his company to make blatant copies of genuine charity collection bags and lied to the public about who would really profit from the items they donated in good faith. The Association of Charity Shops conducts regular surveys of their members which suggest that the activities of bogus collectors cause huge losses to genuine good causes of millions of pounds every year. The City of London police have estimated that charity bag theft and fraud costs charities £50 million per annum.
Sentencing Kaminskas today, His Honour Judge Lambert said this was a ‘fraud perpetrated against charities and the good nature of British householders’ and told Kaminskas that ‘you stole charitable goodwill and turned it to your personal advantage’.
Stephen Meale of Bristol City Council, which hosts the South West Scambusters Team, said: ‘The collection of donated goods, especially clothing, is a very significant income stream for many charities. The cynical and fraudulent use of bags falsely claiming to be collecting on behalf of charities is not only abusing people’s good will and depriving charities of income intended for them to carry out their work but will erode people’s confidence in this significant means of fundraising. I am glad that the South West Regional Trading Standards Scambusters Team has been able to follow up complaints from across the South West and beyond and secure this conviction today to demonstrate that this is criminal activity, which must be dealt with as such.’
For more information about this case contact the regional Scambusters office on 01173 521233 or to speak to the National Trading Standards Board regarding a more general enquiry please contact the Trading Standards Institute press office on 0845 6089430 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to editors
The National Trading Standards Board (NTSB) is a group of senior and experienced local government heads of trading standards, representing all trading standards services across England and Wales. The Board was established by the Government to improve the enforcement of laws intended to tackle rogue traders operating both regionally and nationally who are causing harm to consumers and legitimate businesses. The NTSB also issues grants and funds national and regional initiatives such as the Illegal Money Lending Teams, Safety at Ports and the National Trading Standards eCrime Centre.
Scambusters is a NTSB funded project aimed at targeting rogue trading and scams across England and Wales, supporting all local authority areas in England and Wales. There are separate arrangements in place in Scotland.
DATE: 12 April 2013