Southampton CourtChris Ison/PA Archive/Press Association Images

A gang of bogus charity collectors has been jailed by Southampton Crown Court. The five gang members had scammed people at pubs and clubs in Southampton, and raked in at least £26,000 over three years before they were caught.

So how were they caught out, and how can you avoid being scammed by people like this?


The scam

The gang were Gordon Coe, a 65-year-old former pub landlord from Millbrook Road East, Pauline Hunt (55), Susan Christians (65 of Drapers Copse) and Kim (45) and Ben Chapman (43, both from Pennine Road). The gang - all from Southampton - pretended to be from Marie Curie Cancer Care, carried fake ID, and convinced people who were out on the town to part with their money.

Sarah Dineley, District Crown Prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service Wessex, told AOL: "For three years, Gordon Coe and his four other accomplices, all from Southampton, thought they had masterminded the perfect scam, going through Southampton pubs and collecting money on behalf of the well respected end of life charity, Marie Curie Cancer Care."

"Greediness and the appeal to make easy money pushed Coe, the ringleader, to apply in 2008 to the charity as a volunteer fundraiser. After being vetted, a representative of the charity visited the ring leader at his home address and gave him collection tins, a paying-in book, t-shirts, an ID badge and a receipt book on the understanding he would collect in the Southampton area. He was given strict instructions on how and where he should collect the funds.

"However, our evidence showed that Coe did not respect this agreement right from the beginning and over those three years, he enrolled four others into his scam. The two men and three women whose ages ranked from mid-forties to mid-sixties did not express any remorse about taking pub goers money donated with the intention that it would go to the respectable charity."

Caught

According to the Daily Mail, they went on 260 collecting raids - collecting around £100 a time. However, there was also £40,000 of unaccounted-for money collectively in their bank accounts.

They were scuppered when a pub landlord had his suspicions about one of the gang collecting with a tatty old tin. He rang the charity, which contacted Hampshire Police.

They were all jailed for at least a year - while ringleader Coe was jailed for four years after pleading guilty to conspiracy to defraud and concealing financial transactions. The judge said the sentences were intended not just as a punishment, but as a deterrent to anyone else considering this sort of scam.

According to the Daily Express, Judge Derwent Hope, Honorary Recorder of Southampton, said: "This is a shocking case of fraud in which the public and a charity have been abused. No one will ever know the true loss to the Marie Curie fund. I am satisfied they are a wonderful charity who bring relief to terminally ill people and their families, while properly accounting what they receive from generous donors. That is why at the heart of this case there has been a massive breach of trust from each one of you, not just to the members of the public you targeted in public houses but also the Marie Curie fund you defrauded."

Dineley added: "This case sends a strong message to whoever is plotting a scam and thinking they will never be caught. We would like to thank all the witnesses in the case and would like to emphasise that the great work of Marie Curie Cancer Care charity should not be tarnished by the criminal acts of the defendants in this case."

So how can you protect yourself from bogus charity collectors?

Those involved in this case - including the charity - are keen to emphasise that the vast majority of collectors are genuine, and we must not let this put us off from making donations.

However, it pays to ask a few questions before you give. We offered a guide to spotting bogus collectors in February. However, as a bare minimum it's worth asking to see ID and documents from the charity confirming they are collecting legitimately. If in doubt, it's worth waiting until you get home and then donating online direct to the charity instead.