Scammers pretending to be from a charity helping sick and disabled children may have been rumbled by a litter pick in Sunderland.
More than 200 collection bags apparently from Dreams Come True were found during the clean-up of footpaths around Herrington and Doxford Park.
The discovery prompted organiser and newly elected councillor Dominic McDonough to contact the organisation to ask bosses to investigate.
The charity insisted all collections had been stopped more than three years ago and the bags appeared to be part of an attempted fraud.
In a statement, the charity said: “There have been a number of reports of Dreams Come True collection bags found left in public locations.
“We stopped collections, operated on our behalf by a company called Byronswell on March 31, 2016. Any collection bag activities since then are not part of the Dreams Come True charity.
“We are saddened that there are individuals who are disguising themselves as part of the charity as their actions not only impact our ability to help our beneficiaries, but also litter local communities.”
As well as Sunderland, the charity says it has also had reports of fake collection bags being found in Northumberland, Hampshire and Wales.
In a message posted on its website, Dreams Come True, which provides holidays and medical equipment for ‘children and young people with serious and life-limiting medical conditions’, added it had reported alleged scam to City of London Police’s Action Fraud team and appealed for the public’s ‘assistance in catching the individuals involved in this fraud’.
City of London Police confirmed it had probed the allegations, but ‘found there were insufficient lines of enquiry for an investigation based in the UK’, adding the ‘international nature of fraud poses difficulties in tracing payments and suspects’.
Coun McDonough, who represents the St Chad’s ward for the Conservative Party, said he felt ‘sick’ at the attempt to ‘hijack’ fundraising.
“Dreams Come True works with sick and disabled children and those people who are using the charities good name for criminal gain should hang their heads in shame,” he said.
“I just want to ensure that no residents are taken in by this scam and I hope that if we all work together we can catch the criminals responsible.”