Door-to-door canvassing scam damages all charities

When complete strangers come to the door and ask for money, Central Albertans have been rather generous.

When complete strangers come to the door and ask for money, Central Albertans have been rather generous.

That’s all changed now, thanks to one particular Red Deer fraudster.

Recently, several hundred people gave thousands of dollars to the con, who was campaigning under the guise of raising money to fight cancer.

The 37-year-old man, Philip Wiggins, went door-to-door in Red Deer and Lacombe last year asking for donations for the Canadian Cancer Society.

He was not authorized to do so and he was keeping the money for himself.

A few years ago, the Canadian Cancer Society in Alberta and the Northwest Territories stopped doing door-to-door canvassing.

The division was in fact the first in Canada to drop door-to door because it was getting too difficult to get enough volunteers, and donations collected this way were falling off.

Wiggins took in an astonishing $40,000 from 2,585 people in the area. Police became suspicious when complaints started coming in about cheques not clearing, and they learned Wiggins was asking for cash instead of cheques.

Wiggins, who already had a criminal record for fraud, was sentenced to a year in jail and then probation, for his latest actions, and isn’t allowed to volunteer for a charity or community group.

Like Judge Jim Hunter said, it “boggles the mind” thinking about how much effort Wiggins put into the scam.

That’s a lot of door-knocking and walking.

When it comes to raising money for cancer, it’s a licence to print money. All it takes to haul in the cash is to just use the dreaded C-word. Everyone knows someone touched by it.

This sad, high-profile case will make it more difficult for anyone going door-to-door trying to raise funds for charity. Donors should be able to trust their gifts are going to the cause they support.

For those who might want to go the extra mile before donating, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (formerly PhoneBusters) website offers a lot of great information on protection against fraud.

Fortunately there are many more secure, less intrusive ways to support charities than handing out money and cheques at the door — such as online, payroll deduction or attending a function.

While Central Albertans are most certainly less trusting these days about door-to-door donating, hopefully they won’t be any less generous.

Mary-Ann Barr is the Advocate’s assistant city editor. She can be reached by email at barr@bprda.wpengine.com or by phone at 403-314-4332.

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