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Minister condemns rogue charities tricking elderly Australians into automatic donations | Australian politics

PoliticsMinister condemns rogue charities tricking elderly Australians into automatic donations | Australian politics

Charity fundraisers who trick vulnerable people into making automatically deducted donations are being warned they face a crackdown as part of the federal government’s overhaul of privacy laws.

In a speech to the Fundraising Institute to be delivered on Wednesday, the assistant minister for charities, Andrew Leigh, will tell the not-for-profit sector it must improve its donation solicitation practices because rogue, exploitative operators were undermining public trust in its work.

“The generosity of Australians who give their money to support a cause creates an obligation on government, charities and fundraisers to ensure fundraising exchanges are safe and unambiguous,” Leigh says in a copy of the speech seen by Guardian Australia.

He will deliver a blunt message to the charities sector about cooperating with the government’s update of the Privacy Act, aspects of which aim to modernise data handling protocols and ensure fundraisers are accountable for community “trust and confidence”.

“Accept that change is necessary and help us shape that change,” Leigh will tell the sector.

On taking office, the Albanese government promised to standardise Australia’s state and territory philanthropy regulations to achieve a doubling of private charitable donations by 2030. But Leigh says there is a difference between legitimate fundraising for important purposes and relentlessly pestering people, especially those who may find it hard to refuse.

He particularly condemns those who encourage vulnerable and often elderly people to authorise online bank-account deductions without properly explaining they will be ongoing donations and not just a one-off gift.

Leigh cites the case of a 79-year-old Queensland man whose bank contacted him last year after detecting suspected fraudulent withdrawals from his account.

The bank also printed out pages from his account to separately flag that several not-for-profit organisations were deducting consistent amounts at regular intervals and to ensure he was aware of them.

The man’s niece examined the information and wrote to her local MP, who passed the details to Leigh.

“On review of the statement pages and collecting together the many letters around my uncle’s home from not-for-profits, I have found at least 26 organisations that have been sending donation requests to him,” the woman wrote of how charity fundraisers had bombarded her uncle, exploiting his generosity to one charity to make requests for dozens of others.

“They have been taking a minimum of $30, however usually $60, and at least two organisations have been taking $100 monthly,” she reported.

She said her uncle had authorised the donations without realising the implications.

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“He has been targeted after donating to one organisation and has not kept track of how many he has approved,” she wrote. “This is an issue with elderly [people] who are not remembering how they are spending their money.”

Leigh says this example underlines the effort and “calculus” required to raise money for charitable endeavours.

“On the other [hand], it paints an unlovely picture which, to put it plainly, reasonable people do not see as fair,” he says.

Leigh also points to the case of Brisbane-based telemarketing company Pareto Phone which undertook fundraising work for major charities and had its database hacked last year. Tens of thousands of donors to various charities had their data published on the dark web. Two months later the company collapsed.

Leigh says the episode exposed “problematic data management practices” across the fundraising sector. He stresses that while such examples are unusual, they are significant enough to be a concern.

“These stories have a heavy impact, which creates ripples that disturb public trust and confidence.”

The government is consulting with the sector while drafting amendments to the Privacy Act after a review that recommended 116 changes.

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