Scams

Update on 'Crime Prevention UK'

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If you have been following my blog for some time you will know that I have taken delight in exposing a number of scams, and in warning readers about them.

One long running one started in February 2011 with this blog post: "Crime Prevention UK" scam. In brief, an unsolicited phone call starts by raising anxiety levels about local crime rates, then offers a free burglar alarm. If that sounds too good to be true, it is; the 'customer' is charged a massive annual monitoring charge for the alarm. Salespeople are very pushy and persuasive, and they seem to target the elderly.

That post has attracted 162 comments, many by readers who have themselves had similar phone calls, and some who have been taken in and lost money.

A few days after posting this I reported: Local police warn against "Crime Prevention UK". Then a month later we had some good news: 'Crime Research UK' shut down today - but will that put an end to the scam?

The Times picked up the issue and interviewed me about it. Unfortunately you have to pay to view articles on their website, but if you follow this link you catch a photo of me.

But I was right to be sceptical about whether this would mean an end to the scam. If you read down through the comments on the original post you will see that readers have claimed that the company has been resurrected under a number of other guises. Comments have been appearing right up to the present.

MoneySavingExpert has also hosted a couple of forum discussions about the same problem going back to 2009 and continuing here. Between us we have accumulated an enormous amount of information - and it is still happening.

I promised the readers of the thread that I would take the matter up with my MP. As it happens, he is a Cabinet Minister, Edward Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. He passed it on to Jo Swinson, Minister for Consumer Affairs who has written back to me. I can't reveal everything in that correspondence, but will report back on my blog as soon as I can.

 

 

'Consumer Advice Bureau' has just called me. Has anyone heard of them?

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It came up as an International call and was obviously from a call centre in India (which the caller later confirmed). The caller introduced herself as Ruby and told me that she wasn't selling anything but was carrying out a survey. The survey would not include any personal information.

I was intrigued, as I usually am, so allowed her to start asking me the questions. The first one was "Are you a home owner?". I told her that I considered it a personal question, and did not reply.

Whilst this was going on I was googling 'Consumer Advice Bureau'. It did not show up at all in searches, so I asked Ruby for the web address of the organisation. That threw her (odd, that) and she had to put me on hold while checking. She said that the website wasn't ready yet (!), but once again assured me that she would not be asking for personal information.

But significantly she started referring to the non-existent Consumer Advice Bureau as CAB.

At that point I told her that it was very misleading to use the initials CAB, as it stood for the well-respected Citizen's Advice Bureau. I said I guessed that the 'Consumer Advice Bureau' was a front for a company that wanted to sell me something, and said my farewells.

Has anyone actually answered their 'survey'? If so, what are they selling?

From Lib Dem Voice: Mystery of fake leaflets in North Richmond

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I posted this earlier today on Lib Dem Voice:

The leaflet below appears to be normal Lib Dem election literature. It was one of three distributed widely over night on May2nd/3rd for the council by-election in North Richmond, in the London borough of Richmond upon Thames. You may wonder why it is titled Comments instead of Focus, but that is what Lib Dems have always called their leaflets in Richmond.

Indeed, the layout and photos are exact copies of earlier Lib Dem election leaflets. The bar chart, grumble sheet and contact details all look authentic. The writing style is credible.

But a closer inspection reveals something very worrying. The main story is completely false. (Click the image to view a larger version)

North Richmond fake leaflet

It states:

Jane Dodds will be campaigning with local Lib Dems to increase social housing in North Richmond by bringing forward plans to develop the Sainsbury’s Supermarket site at Manor Road.

The Sainsbury’s site offers an ideal opportunity for a high rise development to significantly expand social housing, building a further 550 one and two bedroom apartments on top of the Manor Road Sainsbury’s.

This is quite outrageous. The local Lib Dems were certainly notcampaigning for 550 flats to be built above their local Sainsbury’s. The leaflet is a fake.

Two more similar fake leaflets were circulated before polls opened.  In one the Lib Dem candidate apparently supported the use of the local Premier Inn for emergency homeless accommodation for migrants, and in the other proposed converting a pub into hostel accommodation for drug or alcohol dependent young people and for recently released prisoners, neither of which was true. We can all see where the narrative is going: references to social housing, EU migrants, homelessness,  addiction and ex-cons are coupled with ‘bleeding heart’ Lib Dem concern for the vulnerable.

The leaflets do not, of course, carry an imprint, but that is a minor legal issue compared with the damage done to the democratic process. A number of local voters have admitted that they were taken in by the leaflets, decided not to vote Lib Dem as a result and voted Conservative in protest. This was a seat that we were hoping to take back from the Conservatives, but Jane Dodds lost by 146 votes.

Jane’s agent was Roger Hayes (one of Mark Pack’s local liberal heroes) and he spent much of polling day talking with the police from Special Operations and Anti-Terrorism, which we all still refer to as Special Branch. The police are taking the matter very seriously and are treating the leaflets as fraudulent.  The Representation of the People Act 1983 created an offence of “undue influence” which may be relevant to this case.

Anti-terrorist officers are examining CCTV footage to try to identify who delivered the leaflets. It is most unlikely, though not impossible, that one of the main political parties would carry off a stunt like this, but it is a challenge to work out who would go to the trouble of designing, printing and distributing such convincing and subtle fakes.

My complaint about Sit and Slim is upheld. But what about that wraparound?

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I have received lots of comments on my blog posts Lose weight by sitting down? and I have complained to the Advertising Standards Agency about Sit and Slim.  Muriji promote the use of their chairs - at considerable expense - in five locations, one of which is in New Malden, and a number of local people feel they have been misled and ripped off by this company.

Today I feel entirely vindicated - which is definitely a good feeling.  

Three other people (encouraged by my blog) also complained to the Advertising Standards Authority about the adverts by Miruji for Sit and Slim chairs, and the ASA added in some further issues. Altogether they submitted seven different issues to the ASA Council, and the Council upheld all of them.

You can read the judgement here, but in essence it states:

1. The so-called trial at Hellesdon Hospital "did not show that Sit and Slim could result in weight reduction, improve self-esteem, increase confidence, reduce or eliminate aches and pains, facilitate the healing and prevention of injuries or improve sleep" so the claims "had not been substantiated and were misleading".

2. Phrases like 'NHS Hospital trial' were misleading because it "was not NHS-approved or formal research". 

3. The claim that the chair was worth £10,000 was not substantiated.

4. The claim that the Sit and Slim chair could reduce blood pressure breached the rules about advertising health related products.

5. The ads also breached the rules about advertising treatments for obesity.

6. Miruji did not provide documentary evidence that one of the testimonials was genuine.

7. The ads "gave the impression that weight loss would be a direct and inevitable consequence of using the programme itself and that it was unlikely to be clear to readers that any weight reduction would have to come entirely from lifestyle changes that they would have to implement themselves."

The conclusion is very clear.

"The ads must not appear again in their current form."

Muruji are also advised to consult the ASA advice team before creating any more ads.

I was actually sent a copy of the judgment on Thursday 19th April, embargoed until today. The judgement became operative on the day before that and Miruji would have had sight of it earlier in the week.

So you can imagine my surprise at finding a four page advertorial for Sit and Slim wrapped around  the Kingston Guardian dated 19th April. The ad repeated all the claims that were trashed by the ASA. The company must have known that the judgement was imminent and decided to have one last go.

I phoned ASA about the wraparound, and they talked about the lead time for preparing and placing an ad in the local press, so could not criticise them. Of course, they will take action if any new ads appear in the future.

However, the company's website still makes many of the claims that have been criticised by the ASA. (I won't do them a favour by providing a link to the website from my blog, but you know how to Google)

I've also passed all my information on to the Surrey Comet/Kingston Guardian, so I hope they will cover the story soon.

 

 

Another day, another phone scam - this one from Nerd-i about my 'faulty' PC

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Today I had a second phone call from someone telling me that my computer was faulty. The first time I got this call, a couple of weeks ago, I must have sounded suspicious because they put the phone down on me.

This time I decided to play naive and let them take me through the spiel. The caller told me that he 'knew' that my computer had more than 1000 faults and that it might crash at any time. He rather spoilt his line by then asking if I had a computer, but I ignored that and battled on. He said he would show me the problems.

First he told me to go to Start and click on Run, then enter eventvwr. This launches the Event Viewer and is a perfectly safe thing to do. I was then to click on Applications and notice how many errors there were.

As it happens this did alert me to a problem with my backup service, but I didn't tell him that. Apart from that there were in fact very few errors, but even if there had been more I imagine they would have been perfectly normal events.

Next came the dodgy bit. I was instructed to go to Run again then key in a web address. This is highly dangerous and no-one should do it. I wrote down the web address he gave me (but I will not share it with you) and asked him what would happen if I typed it in. He said it would allow me to access some remote software which would fix the problem.

Aha!! I explained that I would take some advice before going to a strange website because I was afraid of downloading viruses - I didn't tell him that I was more concerned about downloading spyware that might access my personal data. Not surprisingly he assured me that there wouldn't be any viruses.

I still said that I would not go to a strange website so he tried another tactic. This time I was to Run and enter msconfig. Once again, this is perfectly safe and launches the System Configuration Utility. Now I wouldn't advise anyone to make any changes to this utility unless they know what they are doing, but no harm can come from looking at it.

I was told to click on the Services tab and then look at how many applications were logged as 'stopped'. He told me that these were all applications that were needed by the computer and without them the PC would crash.

Total nonsense, of course. Applications which are stopped are just that - applications that have been running and are no longer needed.

At that point I had heard enough, so I asked him the name of his company, which he spelt out for me: Nerd-i. I repeated my story about not going to unknown websites and said goodbye.

Then I started googling. Nerd-i also crops up as Nerd Support Services and The Nerd Support, with plenty of complaints about its methods. Here is one warning from PCPro: Pensioner targeted by fake virus phone scam. It seems that they charge £185 for providing a so-called solution to the non-existent problem, presumably through a simple process of clearing out the error logs.

Unlike other scams I have dealt with there does seem to be a legitimate company called Nerd-i, with a comprehensive website. It is registered at Companies House with an address in London. The Nerd-i website has the appearance of a professional company and offers a range of internet security services.

I was wondering if someone was using their brand illicitly. So I phoned the number given on the website and asked the woman who replied whether she was aware of the techniques being used. At first she agreed that the phone call had come from them. When I explained that I was an IT professional and knew that they were using unfounded scare tactics she said that it 'wasn't her department' and that she would try to trace the person who called me to have words with him. I then told her that I would be reporting them to the police.

Have you received a phone call like mine? Do you know anyone who has fallen for the scam?

Update

I phoned the new Met 101 helpline, and explained what had happened. They tried to put me through to the Intelligence section at Kingston Police Station but the call transfer failed, and the 101 line was then busy.

But before that happened they did advise me to get in touch with Trading Standards. So I called Trading Standards on 08454 04 05 06 which goes straight to Consumer Direct, and told them my story. They thought I should report it to Action Fraud, the Government counter fraud organisation.

I called Action Fraud and after some explanation I was asked to submit a crime report and was given a crime number.

By that time I had noticed that Nerd-i had only been registered at Companies House two months ago, which would explain the change of name.

If you want to report something similar I would suggest you go straight to Action Fraud or call them on 0300 123 2040.

I have complained to the Advertising Standards Agency about Sit and Slim

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Today's Kingston Guardian carried another full page advert for the Sit and Slim system that I wrote about last week.

It still repeats the misleading claims about a 'NHS Hospital Trial' and implies that you can use weight 'by simply sitting on' one of their chairs.

So I've put in a complaint to the Advertising Standards Agency. Perhaps you would like to do so too?

Ooops - that should be Advertising Standards AUTHORITY.

Lose weight by sitting down?

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I was highly sceptical about a full page advert that has been appearing in the local papers for a product called 'Sit and Slim'. Having seen Dragon's Den last weekend I'm now wondering whether I should report them to the Advertising Standards Agency.

The product is a combination of a massage chair and an audio tape, and the company really does claim that you can lose weight sitting down. Apparently, in order to use the system, you have to enrol at a local centre at a cost of over £600 per year.

The founder of the company was roundly criticised by the Dragons. He seemed incapable of answering questions about his business plan and didn't know how many people had enrolled at the differing rates. But the most telling thing was his reaction when asked whether there was any scientific basis for his claims.

He kept saying that a hospital somewhere was carrying out tests, but he had to be pushed hard to acknowledge that there was no evidence to back his assertions. And yet the advert in this week's Kingston Guardian (page 12) states unequivocally "NHS Trial Proves Sit & Slim Chair Works".

There is also an article about it in the paper on page 3. I'm not sure whether he lives locally, but he has a centre in New Malden.

I have checked his NHS Trial claim. It seems that he did not have results from the trials when the programme was recorded, but now that he has got his 'evidence' it is not all it seems. Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust was given a chair which was tested on 18 members of staff for a 3 month period each. Of these 12 lost weight and 4 gained weight.

To quote from the Norwich Evening News: Vicky Stone, one of the trust’s physiotherapists, said the trial results were not “statistically valid” or rigorous, but they do offer the health and wellbeing board an insight into whether the chairs could continue to help staff and reduce sickness rates, and if they could even possibly be used for patients in the future.

In other words, it was not a controlled experiment and not a formal NHS trial, although the anecdotal evidence could certainly be a trigger for more detailed investigations into the promoter's claims. It certainly does not justify the "NHS Trial Proves ..." headline in the advert.

Now before anyone jumps in and tells me that his idea does have some merit, I would say that I think I do understand what this is about. Having lost 3 stone in a matter of 8 months recently, I do know that the most important thing was getting the psychology right. Motivation was crucial, as was a positive attitude to the process, and a determination not to demonise food. So sitting in a massage chair, listening to some positive thinking on an audio tape, could possibly help some people to find the motivation they need. Indeed, it is a form of hypnotherapy, but without the professional hypnotist.

But the ad says this: "We understand that you may be sceptical about losing weight by simply sitting on a Sit & Slim therapeutic wellbeing chair, most people are." Note simply.

Yes, I am sceptical. At some point you have got to get out of that chair, shop for suitable food, count calories, carbs or fat units, and get some exercise. Nothing else works.

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