Back in 2002 I had a call from a company who asked me to support a charity and advertise on a wall chart. I assumed that I was doing the noble thing and agreed to support a local charity by taking out an advertisement.
One month later they sent me a wall chart with my company and a number of other local businesses advertised around a calendar.
One week later I received an invoice for £300 (they had quoted £75 – £90)
When I received the invoice I thought “Something’s not quite right with this”. I decided to ignore the invoice as it had NO contact number on it and I could not get my queries answered.
When their accounts dept rang me chasing the payment they could not give me any answers and said that “because they are now working on the next wall chart the records for the old wall chart were not available”
At various times I also received calls from agents claiming to work for the publishing company and asking if they could “collect the wall chart”??
I refused to pay the bill until they could provide me with answers to my questions (such as why the hike in the price and where were the wall charts actually going to be sold or displayed).
I then received numerous phone calls and letters requesting payment but I ignored them although they got really harassing. At this point due to expansions in my company we moved premises and I decided to ignore the letters and they eventually left me alone. However, I think this was simply because we moved AND changed our telephone number rather than them just giving up!!
Update: 28-April-2007 – Since this website has been running I have had many people contact me asking for help because they have received County Court claims. In ALL cases about which I have been informed, the case has been thrown out of court.
I then started receiving numerous phone calls from other publishing companies claiming that they were legitimate and supporting charities. I explained to them the problems I had with the other company and they said I had been right to ignore their letters as they are a “dodgy” company. This served only to undermine their own credibility as they then tried to sell me EXACTLY the same advertising as the previous company “on a wall chart” and they also wanted to collect ANY copies I had of my previous wall charts.
I refused to advertise telling them I had lost my confidence in companies that telephoned me in this way and they eventually stopped ringing me.
Over the next 6 months I received numerous phone calls from companies “Thanking me for agreeing to support their cause” and trying to get me to agree on the phone that I had agreed to support them so they could invoice me. To all such attempts I replied that I had not agreed to support any charity. Different companies but the same phone calls.
UPDATE: 28-April-2007 – 90% of all contact reported to me comes from companies based in Liverpool.
Their tactics are very dangerous and it is easy to fall into the trap. The problem is that they record the phone calls and if you say, for example, that it is possible that there was an earlier conversation but you cannot remember they will use that to “prove” that they are right, that you had agreed previously but simply cannot remember. They will threaten to use the taped call in court proceedings if you do not pay up.
I decided to set up this website in 2004 after this phone call:
Caller: Hello sir, my name is Mrs Webster and I am from a company called Anderson and Clarke. I would first like to thank you for agreeing to support us this year with our booklets for local schools and hospitals.
(I thought at this point, hello here we go again)
Me: Sorry what company did you say you were from.
Caller: Anderson and Clarke
Me: I am sorry I don’t remember agreeing to support anyone.
Caller: Yes you spoke to one of my colleagues back in March.
Me: Oh I don’t think I did. Sorry can I have the address of your company.
Me: Because I want to open an account on my pc to remember who I speak to.
Caller: Why do you want this?
Me: I just told you.
Caller: But why do you want it.
Me: Because I want to make a note of who I am speaking to.
Caller: (She then gives me an address I can tell she just made up)
Me: Thanks and a contact number for you
Caller: (She then plainly makes up a number as the address she gave me does not correspond with the area code of the phone number)
Me: OK thanks for that, I am going to pass your details over to trading standards because I know you’re not genuine and you are trying to con me.
Caller: You IDIOT do you think that’s my real address I gave you; you IDIOT.
Me: (laughing) no you are the idiot.
Caller: You’re the idiot, what have you gained today; you think you’re so clever don’t you.
Me: No not really
Caller: Yes you do, do you think you’re clever?
Me: No not really but I just saved myself a few quid by not falling for your scam.
Caller: So you think you’re cleverer than me do you?
Me: No not really
Caller: What have you gained today?
Me: Nothing but I have not fallen for your scam.
Caller: You idiot
CALLER THEN SLAMS PHONE DOWN!!
Somehow I think this conversation was not according to their standard script. Also, it had now become clear that this was not just sharp practice, taking an excessive price for a product that was not going to do me any good, but a representative of the company had effectively admitted it was a scam and was prepared to make up fictitious details when I wanted further information.
All I needed to have said in answer to them thanking me for already having agreed to support their “booklet” was something like: “No problem, happy to help a charity; what can I do for you?” and I would have been taped, in effect, agreeing that I had made that commitment.
As it was I thought: “This is getting out of hand”
I then decided to launch this website and warn others of these scams.
About 3 days later I received a phone call from the SAME woman obviously oblivious to our previous conversation. She started off as usual thanking me for supporting them and telling me she is from Anderson & Clarke.
I stopped her there and said “Ain’t you the company that was on Watchdog last night” (I made this up). She started mumbling obviously not sure what to say.
I then started quoting her information about this scam that I had read on the BBC Watchdog website about a similar company. Next thing I know some male comes on the phone and says “Excuse me sir who are you” I said “Who are you” he then put the phone down.
I have heard nothing since. If I do get another phone call of this kind I shall say:
“I am a member of ADSCAMS if you don’t know who they are then please visit www.adscams.co.uk thank you” and I shall put the phone down.
I want all members to do the same and together we will beat the scammers !!!
Having had the website running for quite some time, I regularly received emails thanking me for warning people as they had just “googled” “charity Scam” or “Charity Advertising Scam” and found the ADSCAMS website.
Most people asked my advice and others kept me informed daily of their contact with these companies and sent me copies of all letters they had received including court documents. Most of this I couldn’t publish but it was helping me keep up to date with the way these people operated.
The same company names kept popping up and I also received a number of anonymous emails from ex-employees and people who refused to identify themselves but gave me a huge insight into the people behind the companies and the exact way they operate.
At this point I got a little brazen and cocky and decided to name and shame these companies by listing their names and clearly calling them scammers. (This was much to my solicitor’s annoyance at a later date – little did I then know about defamation and the events to come! Moral – if you know or think you are doing something a bit risky take advice first, not afterwards when it is too late).
One of the companies I listed as a scammer was a company called PPA or Press and Publishing Agency. This company was very active in this area and I received daily emails of complaints about people who had been hounded by this company and in many cases verbally abused on the phone.
On 20 May 2006 I received a letter via email from the solicitors for PPA informing me that the comments I had posted on the website where affecting their clients business and they classed them as defamatory.
They gave me 7 days to completely remove all reference to PPA from the website.
Me being me and on my high horse about saving the world from Advertising Scams thought “sod ‘em”!! I ignored their email and even posted more updates.
On 25 May 2006 I received a “reminder” from PPA’s solicitors.
Again I ignored the email!!!
On 6 June 2006 (or 06-06-06 – Nice date :-]) things got serious. I received an email from PPA’s solicitors stating that I had ignored their previous emails, had not abided by their deadline to remove defamatory comments from the website and now threatened me with a High Court action.
Time for me to contact my solicitor…
I forwarded the letter and links to my website to my solicitor.
At this point we also had a convenient contact at Merseyside Fraud Squad, who advised us that investigations were being made but they could not help us with our problem but agreed that we could use their name and contact details in any correspondence with PPA.
At this point we needed a “specialist” in defamation proceedings.
We contacted a top solicitor in London who gave me some rather sobering insight which basically comes down to this, particularly in relation to defamation claims:
“It matters NOT who is right and who is wrong, but who has the deepest pockets.”
In other words whoever has got the most money will win the case !!
I unfortunately didn’t have the resources to fight my corner and as we knew from reports in the press that these types of companies where raking in £millions from this scam, I felt a little out of my depth in this and I was right in the S**t.
On 12 June 2006 I received an email from my webhosting company who said “remove the comments or we will remove your website”!
I had no choice as my webhosts were now also being threatened by PPA’s Solicitors as the information was on one of their servers and this meant that they too can get sued.
PPA’s solicitors were having a great time by now as they could see I wasn’t in a position to defend myself (apart from being right about my claims) they hit me with their demands:
|1. A signed apology and retraction sent to PPA AND posted on the website.2. A signed undertakings to comply with their requests.3. Full and complete copies of all material about PPA which I was in possession of, whether this had been provided to my by the Police or any other Agency or investigative body or indeed any customer or individual (as covered in the undertakings).4. A certified copy of my passport and/or driving license which confirms my identity.|
This I complied with (I had no choice) and I posted the following on the website:
NOTE: I decided to post this as a .jpg image instead of text. The reason for this is that GOOGLE and other search engines wouldn’t be able to read the text and therefore index and store the retraction for ever. So my groveling apology wouldn’t be seen in search results of people looking for information on these scams
At this point PPA’s solicitors left me alone.
I didn’t update the website after this because I felt that I couldn’t offer much more and the apology made my fight look feeble.
I would like to THANK everyone who supported me during this time with their emails and constantly keeping me updated with their situations.
I was tempted to post details but I just couldn’t find the motivation.
In August 2006 I was contacted by BBC researchers who where investigating this very subject for a Five Live show to be broadcast in October. I explained my situation and had long discussions with my solicitor and the solicitors of the BBC about the possibility of me appearing live on the show to discuss my experiences, the website and exactly how the scam worked. (They classed me as an “expert” on this subject :-] ) ONE WEEK before the show was to be broadcast the BBC decided they couldn’t risk being sued if I accidentally mentioned PPA.
Fortunately I had a really good contact who had actually worked for one of these dodgy companies in the past and he was very keen to spill the beans. I put him in contact with the BBC and he appeared on the show instead of me – THANKS
The response to the show was phenomenal and the amount of people who got scammed was a shock even to me. However the feeling was that no one could do much to stop these companies without help from government, who didn’t have this at the top of their priorities list.
The show closed, I exchanged emails with my contact and I walked away.
I left the website running with no real intention of ever coming back to it, but to leave it there in the hope that it helps some people, who stumbled across it.
My story I thought was over…..
Then at the beginning of April 2007 I started getting reports that some serious shakeups had happened. I got to hear that quite a few companies operating this scam had been shut down by the DTI.
MUCH TO MY EXCITMENT – PPA LTD was on the list
You can read the reports here:
Daily Mirror Report: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/investigates/tm_method=full&objectid=18755345&siteid=89520-name_page.html
CreditMan Report: http://www.creditman.biz/uk/members/news-view.asp?newsviewID=7069
Government News Network: http://www.gnn.gov.uk/environment/fullDetail.asp?ReleaseID=260801&NewsAreaID=2&NavigatedFromDepartment=True