Council warns Highland businesses – don’t be caught out by scammers
4th February 2013
Highland Council’s Trading Standards are warning all Highland businesses to be on their guard against rogue ‘charity’ publishers and operatives that use deliberately misleading sales talk to sell advertising space over the phone or by email or text.
Publications may include advertising space in charity leaflets, wall-planners, crime prevention diaries and the old favourite of business directories.
Smaller businesses can be especially vulnerable by the pester tactics of some callers. Some businesses can pay out costs for advertising from £100 up to £1000 only to find out later that they have been scammed.
Gordon Robb, Trading Standards Manager explains: “We have been aware of this type of business scam for some years and it has a habit of ‘resurfacing’ in different forms from time to time. The scam might tap into some form of ‘emotional blackmail’ where the unsuspecting business receives an unsolicited phone call and is persuaded to enter into a contract for advertising. The Highland business is made to feel that by refusing to place an order that they are failing to help vulnerable and disadvantaged adults, teenagers or children in their local community.
Some of the unscrupulous tactics which have come to the attention of Highland Council Trading Standards include:
· A bogus invoice is sent to a business for an advert in a fictitious publication demanding payment. The unsuspecting business may pay the invoice without question as they may clearly recall if they did agree to the contract or not.
· The unsuspecting business receives an unsolicited call informing them that they had already agreed to the contract and payment is now due or their records show that the payment for the order is outstanding.
· Follow-up unsolicited telephone calls to the unsuspecting business may become threatening or abusive to the scammed business. Some businesses are also bombarded with emails and texts demanding payment.
· The rogue publishing business may also state that they have a recorded message which shows that the business has made a ‘verbal contract’ with them. Businesses are permitted to record telephone calls if they can show that that this is to provide evidence of a business transaction. However recording a telephone conversation without notification is prohibited where some of the contents of the communication are made available to a third party*. A reputable business who records their telephone calls, should be able to provide a transcript or copy of a complete telephone conversation on request by a customer and this would be required as evidence in court proceedings.
Some rogue publishers chase payment through 'debt collection agencies', but these are often owned and run by the publishers themselves, sometimes from the same premises. They are likely to use methods that legitimate agencies would not.
Highland Trading Standards Service advise businesses that fall victim to these types of scams to always send a written reply to the rogue publisher, stating that they do not owe any money and contest the validity of the contract. Targeted victims should also keep a copy of correspondence they receive and respond to.
Highland businesses can also protect themselves from such publishing scams by initially reducing the number of unsolicited sales and marketing calls they receive. Businesses can register (free of charge) with the Corporate Telephone Preference Service (CTPS). The CTPS operates a central opt-out register. It is a legal requirement that companies do not make calls to numbers registered on the CTPS. Once a business is registered with the CTPS, the volume of calls to business mobile phones and landlines etc. should reduce and make it easier to spot the publishing scam phone calls.
Highland businesses can contact the CTPS at: http://www.tpsonline.org.uk/tps/contact.html or by telephone on: 0845 070 0707
Gordon Robb further adds: “Unfortunately, many business publishing scams are based overseas, so they are unregulated and largely beyond the reach of UK authorities. For this reason we would like to urge Highland businesses and their staff to be on their guard when answering unsolicited phone calls, emails and/or texts about advertising and check who they are dealing with before they respond or enter into a contract”.
Highland businesses who feel that they have been a victim of a publishing scam or they would like to know more on how to protect their business from publication scams can contact Highland Trading Standards on 01463 228700 or visit Trading Standards offices at:
Highland Council Trading Standards
38 Harbour Road
For further advice from Highland Trading Standards is also available on the Council’s website at: http://www.highland.gov.uk/tradingstandards