Organisers of the annual Santa Dash which raises thousands of pounds for charity fear they have been targeted by a fraudster dressed as a cartoon character.
More than a 1,000 people took part in the fifth annual Santa Dash on Blackpool Promenade on Sunday in aid of Brian House and Trinity Hospice.
But Hospice chiefs have revealed a suspected conman armed with a bucket was seen touting for cash at the popular event and was not an official collector.
A spokesman said a man dressed in a Minion costume was seen with a collection bucket offering photo opportunities at £1 a time ‘for charity’. When approached, he said he was collecting for Brian House, but had no letter of authenticity and had no official, sealed collection bucket, or any sign with the Brian House logo.
The spokesman added marshals asked him to move away from the event several times, as people were giving him money assuming it was for Brian House, but became very defensive when challenged.
When asked to meet at the Hospice on Monday to confirm his authorisation, he walked away.
Now bosses think those who took part in the Santa Dash may have been duped.
David Houston, chief executive of Trinity Hospice, said: “This seems particularly sad, especially at Christmas.
“We believe that the money being collected by this character was never destined for Brian House, and it concerns me that families enjoying Santa Dash were handing over £1 a time thinking it would benefit our children. “We rely on the support and trust of the local community.
“If this man had been genuine, he would surely have been friendly and would have understood our concerns.
“Instead he was quite rude and would not give his name. With no permit, and no official collecting bucket or letter, we sadly have come to the conclusion that he was not genuine.”
The Hospice’s community fundraiser Lisa Martin said: “He was asked to move away several times before the Santa Dash started, but I later came across him again further up the Promenade, when he had a few families gathered around taking photos and giving him money.
“We are very sorry if people handed over cash thinking it would help the children at Brian House, when in fact it looks as though we won’t see any of it.
“People raising money for Brian House and Trinity Hospice on the streets will always be issued with an official sealed bucket or collecting box, and will be registered with us in advance.
“I’d like to think this was a one-off, and sincerely hope it hasn’t put people off donating to genuine local charities like us.”
The popular charity dash is one of Trinity’s biggest events of the year and sees entire families, including toddlers and beloved pets all kitted out in provided Santa suits.