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RSPCA used small print to snare donors

[30 Sept 2015] A leading charity has been caught using small print to trap potential donors into allowing their details to be passed to other bodies that go on to pester them with cold-calls for money.

In 2005 the RSPCA got Samuel Rae’s details when he took out a pet insurance policy. After his wife died in 2009, Rae set up a monthly direct debit to the RSPCA, her favourite charity. Minuscule print on the direct debit form said: ‘We sometimes allow other organizations whose aims are in sympathy with our own, or whose offers will benefit animal welfare, to contact our supporters. If you do not wish to hear from them, please tick this box.’ He didn’t see this message and thus opted in to his details being shared.

The RSPCA sent him 35 begging letters in a three-year period and passed his details to other bodies. Various charities cold-called him 200 times. The relentless campaign to extract money from Rae – highlighted in the Daily Mail on 2 Sept – came to light only when he contracted dementia and his son took over his affairs in 2015.

The Mail’s investigators found the RSPCA had passed Rae’s details to companies that help charities predict how much they may get from persuading supporters to leave them a legacy. One such outfit was the aptly named Prospecting for Gold Ltd.

The Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, told the paper that charities risk becoming a ‘dirty word’ if they abuse people’s personal data: ‘There’s a danger here of blackening the whole sector.’ The Mail has also exposed the huge salaries being paid to leading charity officials, sometimes triple that of the prime minister.

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