Charities Fined For Exploiting Donors

Thousands of pounds donated to two major charities will now end up in government coffers after they were fined for exploiting the generosity of their donors.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) was ordered to pay £25,000 and the British Heart Foundation (BHF) was fined £18,000 over serious Data Protection Act breaches.

Both charities took part in a practice known as “wealth screening”, paying finance experts to examine previous donors’ personal details and history of giving before advising on the size of future contributions they should be targeted for.

The value of donors’ homes, their lifestyles and even their social circles came under the consultants’ scrutiny and they even assessed the likelihood of them leaving a charitable legacy when they died.

However, neither charity had been given permission to do this, contrary to data protection legislation.

The charities also tracked down potential donors and those who had given in the past using data gathered elsewhere and then pieced together – for example, using information in email addresses to track down phone numbers.

Finally, they traded people’s personal information with other causes through the “Reciprocate” scheme. The RSPCA had an option for donors to opt-out of having their information shared, but it was found to be inadequate.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which handed out the penalties, said it suspects other charities are guilty of similar practices and further fines could follow.

“The millions of people who give their time and money to benefit good causes will be saddened to learn that their generosity wasn’t enough,” said Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham. “And they will be upset to discover that charities abused their trust to target them for even more money.

“This widespread disregard for people’s privacy will be a concern to donors, but so will the thought that the contributions people have made to good causes could now be used to pay a regulator’s fine for their charity’s misuse of personal information.”

The ICO said the fines were just a tenth of the size that could have been levied but they had been limited to prevent upsetting donors further.

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