Beware the Fake Clothing Donation Bin

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If you're a good samaritan, chances are you've dropped a bag or two of old clothes into one of the donation bins found in parking lots and on sidewalks. You probably felt pretty great after, thinking about all the underprivileged people who will soon be wearing your hand-me-downs. I hate to burst your bubble, but that clothing donation bin might actually be a fake.

According to the New York Times, illegal clothing bins are becoming increasingly popular with businesses seeking to make an extra buck off of your good will. No good deed goes unpunished, am I right?

A growing number of companies — many of them based in New Jersey — are illegally placing used-clothing bins throughout New York City, blocking sidewalks and serving as magnets for litter and graffiti. The receptacles typically have signs that indicate donated goods will go to the poor or, in some cases, to legitimate charities. But, city officials said, the needy do not benefit from much of what is collected. Instead, the clothing is often sold in thrift stores or in bulk overseas, with the proceeds going to for-profit entities that can be impossible to trace, or even to contact.

Can you say "underhanded"? I mean, these businesses are exploiting you and hurting the people who would otherwise receive your clothing had you placed them in a legitimate donation bin. The New York Times piece states that New York City has seen a significant increase in fake donation bins in the past four years alone. According to NYC law, any bin placed on a public sidewalk is considered "illegal" and once an illegal bin has been identified and tagged by the Sanitation Department, the owner has 30 days to remove it.

Maybe some of these illegal bins are not being used for profit, but I recommend going the safe route and donating directly to reputable sources like Goodwill and the Salvation Army. Jim Gibbons, president and CEO of Goodwill, told the New York Times that although Goodwill has shied away from donation bins in recent years, the company will be combating the influx of illegal bins with more of their own:

Hopefully the consumer will see the Goodwill brand and know it is trusted, and that the property owner is in partnership with us. But when a bin looks lonely and is in a place that makes you ask ‘What’s that doing there?’ — you should call that into question.

My family has always donated to Savers, where the proceeds go toward funding local nonprofits. If you're looking for better places to deliver your old Forever 21 bodycon dresses and college T-shirts, Elle has a comprehensive list of awesome, reputable places that take donations. And whatever you do, don't dump anything into those suspicious pink donation bins on the Lower East Side. They have SCAM written all over them.