The editor of The Big Issue has warned sympathetic shoppers across Northern Ireland not to give money to people using his magazine to beg.
He was speaking while Christmas shoppers across Belfast come across women on a daily basis begging for money while holding a copy of his magazine.
One woman in the city centre told the News Letter - in broken English - that she was Romanian and lived in a house near the city centre with her children and a relative.
She was asking passers-by for money while holding a single copy of the magazine but she did not wear a Big Issue seller badge.
The woman repeatedly said she had a “boss” and indicated that she pays him £120 every two weeks.
Asked if she meant a landlord, she could not clarify who or what he was.
Sean Kavanagh, Dublin-based editor of The Big Issue, said the woman was not an authorised seller as she had no badge.
“Buyers should get the magazine in their hand before paying over money if they think there is anything funny,” he said. “We are into giving people a hand up - not a handout.”
He added: “Some people make more money from begging than people with proper careers.”
One man begging in Dublin declined the help of The Big Issue and showed them why.
“He said ‘watch this’ and went onto Henry Street, coming back 15 minutes later with e35 (£25),” said Mr Kavanagh.
“Some people may beg from time to time because they need help, but if it is the same people there all the time begging, you have to start to ask questions.”
Steve Nicol, the Northern Ireland agent for The Big Issue, said: “Most of these people have had their [Big Issue] badges seized because they were begging.”
They probably felt they could earn more money begging than by actually selling the magazine, he said.
“Most of these people come up from Dublin every day. We are working with the police to encourage people not to give money to them.”
The PSNI said that begging is a criminal offence.
See Sandra Says, page 21