THE boss of a charity which helped alert police to a gang of bogus collectors fears the scam may discourage the public from making donations to good causes.
The fraudsters pocketed tens of thousands of pounds from innocent people, from sites including outside the Stadium of Light on match days, pretending to be collecting for Help for Heroes.
The offenders, who have now been jailed, registered with the forces charity, which helps injured soldiers, to get paraphernalia to convince the public they were legitimate collectors.
Volunteers from children’s charity Hope4Kidz were among those who reported the conmen to the authorities.
Members spotted the crooks while holding a collection outside the city’s football ground on Boxing Day 2009.
Viv Watts, chief executive of the Pennywell-based charity, said she is concerned the fraud may affect public confidence and put people off giving money to legitimate collectors.
“When we were outside the stadium collecting, we had people coming up to us and saying that they had already given money to collectors,” she said.
“We knew we were the only legitimate street collectors in the area on that day. We knew straight away that something was wrong.
“We immediately reported them to the police and the stadium security.”
Earlier this month, Newcastle Crown Court heard the bogus collectors were so convincing that even police officers parted with their spare change in an effort to help raise cash.
The gang also collected money outside Newcastle United’s St James’s Park and city pubs.
Prosecutors believe the scam made £45,000 between November 2009 and February 2010.
“We raised £3,460 that day,” said Viv. “I know that is a lot of money for a small charity, but we had a lot of people coming up to us and saying they had already given money to charity that day, money that went to these conmen instead of groups like us and Help for Heroes.
“The public need to know that legitimate collectors have sealed buckets and tins and authentic ID.
“Any member of the public can also ask to see their street licence, which they need to get from the council in order to legally collect on the streets.”
Judge Brian Forster said the fraud was a “scandal and a disgrace,” and jailed four of the five perpetrators.
Natalie Hornby, 39, of Railway Cottages, Nunthorpe, was jailed for 30 months.
She was convicted by a jury of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation.
Jacqueline Newham, 57, of Linden Way, Droylsdon, Manchester, admitted the charge and was jailed for 16 months.
Ellen Grant, 45, of Albert Avenue, Prestwich, Manchester, was found guilty by a jury and jailed for 15 months.
Lydia Cummerson, 41, of Falconwood Chase, Boothstown, Salford, was also convicted by a jury and jailed for 12 months.
Robert Hornby admitted a minor part in the fraud and was given a four-month sentence, suspended for 12 months.