'For greedy, not needy': Fake charity clothes donation bins making a killing

Cleaning up nicely. Some operators boast of making up to US$90,000 (S$125,249) plus a year selling clothes collected from the fake charity bins.
PHOTO: Pexels

Criminals in China are creating fake charity bins to lure donations of clothing and other second-hand items which are then sold for a profit.

Xia Yiming from Fujian province in Eastern China often donates clothes that have gone out of style or no longer fit to charity using location donation bins.

"We always kept used clothes, waiting to give them to some poor relatives or cleaning ladies, but now, very few people wear used clothes, so I just help by donating them," she told China Daily.

She also often helps her elderly parents get rid of unwanted items in this way as well.

"It is a good way to help the needy and also keeps my mum and dad's closet neat and tidy. The old generation like my parents have a habit of hoarding," she said.

Fake donation bins for sale online with the words "Charity Association" already printed on them to make them seem legitimate to donors.

However, she was horrified to learn that some donation bins are just a front for criminals to steal clothes to sell at a profit.

Now she scrutinises bins closely for the operator's credentials, but said she has a new way of giving away used clothes - she leaves the bagged clothes at the entrance to her building and alerts her neighbours via a WeChat group: "Used clothes suitable for those in their 60s. Feel free to pick it up."

Many social media users have been stunned at recent reports about the fraudulent practice and expressed anger at being duped into thinking they were giving to charity.

"If this is just to make money for a private business I am saddened," said one commenter on Baidu.

Criminal operators say the money is good and call the fake bins 'an easy and golden business'. 

"How can they get away with this?" asked another commenter. "Why are authorities not intervening? These clothes are for people who struggle, for the needy, not the greedy ones."

Earlier this year, an investigation by Chinese news site The Paper revealed that fake charities were buying clothing donation bins online from websites like Taobao and in some cases, the sellers were even offering to add on signs such as "Charity Association" "Public welfare" and "environmental protection" to make the bins appear as legitimate charity collection points.

On some e-commerce sites, the fake donation bins were being offered for sale at prices as low as 400 yuan (S$83) each.

The report said that a single tonne of used clothing can net up to 2,200 yuan. According to one anonymous fake charity bin operator quoted in the report, it's "an easy and golden business", with annual profits of up to 600,000 yuan.

In China, it is illegal to falsely operate a charity, but fake charity bins have become a booming business, especially in smaller cities.

Many non-profit organisations (NGO)'s rely on used clothes recycling bins to raise funds and help the needy, but fake boxes cut into this income and hurt the vulnerable people they claim be helping. 
PHOTO: South China Morning Post 

Local officials find it increasingly difficult to keep track of the number of charity bins in many parts of the country.

Tracking down the operators can be time-consuming while proving criminal activity is often even more difficult.

Wang Zhenyao, president of the China Philanthropy Research Institute said fake bins had started popping up in greater numbers in recent years as fewer Chinese people would hang onto used clothes.

"Donation activities began in the 1990s on a regular basis. Back then, without private enterprise or social organisation participation, donated used clothes were usually recycled by civil affairs departments that set up donation centres in a community," he told Red Star News.

Last month, China's Ministry of Civil Affairs issued an alert reminding people that operating fake charities is against the law in a bid to crackdown on the practice.

Recently, some individuals and organisations without any public fundraising qualifications have been collecting used clothes in the name of "charity" and "public welfare"," the notice said.

"This violates the Charity Law, jeopardises donors' legal rights, tarnishes the image of the charity sector and is prohibited."

Last year, authorities in Sichuan, western China, shut down four fake charities using donation bins and issued 20,000 yuan in fines and removed the fake bins. In 2020, officials in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region removed 172 fake charity bins.

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This article was first published in South China Morning Post.