Archive for Scambusters!

Long time no post…

It’s been quite a while since I posted anything on this site but for the last couple of years I’ve been very busy moderating and replying to comments. Most of these have come from people who have been conned by one of the many scams that I’ve looked into on this site.

‘Misleading contract’ business directory scams

A huge number of these people have been victims of ‘business directory’ scams. These trick people into signing a ‘contract’ for roughly €3,000 and then follow up with demands and finally threats from so-called debt collectors (in reality the same people as the scammers). Something like 4% of people snared pay out of fear or desperation. Given the sheer volume of these entrapping forms sent out each year, that’s millions of euro every year just for bullying people over the phone and with a few letters.

The good news is that my posts about these scams are high up in Google meaning that people who have got caught in the trap can find this site and in doing so, read and contribute to the thousands of comments from other people like them. The even better news is that this body of evidence shows that no-one has ever been taken to court by any of these scams. That makes for reassuring reading.

Another neat thing we achieved was to put our warnings about the fake ‘debt collection agencies’ these scams use high up into Google. As soon as someone receives a scary demand from – say ‘ICAA Cyprus Ltd’ on behalf of Expo Guide – they find this site and all the reassuring comments BEFORE they find ICAA’s own (rather 1-dimensional) website.

‘Prize draw promotions’

I can report that – as of the last couple of months – there has been a marked drop-off in ‘prize promotion’ activity. In these thinly-disguised scams, people receive letters telling them they have won a confirmed prize and should contact the company to claim. These promotions are designed to make the ‘lucky winner’ pay to get their prize. On average, the ‘cost’ to claim the prize has been around £15 (extracted through a range of methods such as premium-rate claim lines and insurances). In many, many cases people who paid that money received nothing. Where they did, it was often a throwaway Chinese digital camera with a value of about £2.50.

This scam was designed to appeal to people who are vulnerable and whose judgment is impaired whether through youth, naiivety, mental or other health problems. Finally, in February of 2011, The Office Of Fair Trading (OFT) finally got the UK’s #1 operator of these rip-offs into the High Court last year. Ross-on-Wye based McIntyre & Dodd Marketing Ltd was found to be operating unlawfully and ordered to stop the practice. To our surprise, these people (part of DM Plc) carried on mailing their letters for a couple of months after this ruling – judging by the comments that still regularly arrived in waves to coincide with each new M&D direct mail-out.

The good news is that – for the last couple of months at least – M&D appears to have stopped the mail-outs under the usual sounding names like ‘Community Awards Register’, ‘NB – Botification Bureau’ and ‘Unclaimed Prize Register’ etc etc. The traffic for those titles and for ‘McIntyre & Dodd Marketing Ltd’ has dropped right off – I’m pleased to announce. Let’s hope it won’t start up again under some other guise – although, to be quite honest, I fully expect it to at any moment.

Peter Popoff and his ‘Miracle Debt Cancellation’

This US ‘preacher’ was exposed by James Randi as being a complete and total fake. I was surprised, therefore, to see him sometime in the last year or two on UK TV (on ‘The Gospel Channel’ from Iceland) peddling his wares. A quick Google search for ‘Peter Popoff’ will show you just how much hatred this nasty con man has aroused. Google’s ‘popular searches’ feature tells a clear story: peter popoff prison / peter popoff miracle water / peter popoff fake / peter popoff false prophet.

“Peter Popoff is a mother fucker” says one non-fan on his blog. “Born again but still a religious fraud” says another. “Peter Popoff, back to his old tricks” is yet another. Even RipoffReport has a feature on this toad. Why isn’t he in prison, asks a chunk of the internet population. I’ve no idea – sadly, and there’s no sign of him stopping yet.

TouchLocal

There is still a constant trickle of traffic into this site for the heinous keyphrase “touchlocal sc*m”. Why? Because someone out there isn’t happy with what they’re getting from TouchLocal. Nothing unusual about that but a couple of years ago it bubbled over into a bit of a problem. By publishing unhappy customer comments here, TL were forced to communicate with those customers. A very small number were resolved (better than none) and – under threat from TL – I agreed to take the thread down. Immediately after, TouchLocal tried to play some games to stuff the top of Google search with their own copy for the keyphrase – with the result that they looked like a business with something to hide.

Let’s hope things are improving for TouchLocal’s customers, ordinary non-computer literate business folk just hoping for a little extra business…

PayPal

This one isn’t going away. We’re still getting regular horror-stories from people whose livelihoods are being ruined by PayPal when it freezes their accounts or does strange and, let’s face it, unacceptable-sounding things. My best advice at the time didn’t feel like much help even then – and I suspect that PayPal hasn’t got any more accountable (or regulatable) as it’s got bigger.

Amazon.com/co.uk

I’m pleased to be able to say that the all the traffic to this site for Amazon (and there’s been a lot of it) has shown that, apart from frustration at the company’s unwillingness to highlight its customer service phone number, most people are extremely satisfied with the quality of customer service they DO get when they get through to an agent.

This is exactly the experience I had in the beginning that prompted me to post. Keep up the good work Amazon – and why not make your customer service numbers more accessible? That way you’ll have even more advocates singing your praises worldwide.

..and so

It’s coming time to re-think this site and what I want to do with it.

What I’ve learned is that it is very satisfying to be able to help prevent people from being ripped off and save them from unnecessary worry and stress. In a cruel world that thinks its ok to rip people off because they didn’t see the trap coming, I’m pleased to have made some difference. But it takes a bit of effort and involves a bit of risk, too – so it’s time to consider where we go from here.

European Business Guide: Scam or not?

Is ‘European Business Guide’ a scam? You, the great Googling public will decide..

…meanwhile, here’s some information to help you.

Confidence inspiring. NOT.

‘European Business Guide’ sends out a pdf offering you ‘free updating’ of your entry in their online directory of European Businesses. The idea is to make you think that entry in their ‘directory’ is free, whereas the small print on the form states that entry actually costs 990 euros a year (min 3 years and automatically extended year on year) while ‘updating’ (once you’ve been entered) is – amusingly – ‘free’.

This is an old but surprisingly successful scam that’s based on a simple principle: people are needy and careless. They want something for nothing. They’ll sign the form without seeing the small print, believing that they’re getting something for free.  Then, if you bully people hard enough, a percentage of those people will pay you out of fear and/or shame.

Simples.

Anyway. Enough from me. Suffice to say there are many versions out there at the moment. Expo Guide, Word Business Directory, World Company Directory, World Business Register, European City Guide, Fairguide and many many more.

If you’ve started receiving demands because you filled in the form without reading the small print, then add your experience here by commenting. Search for my posts on ‘Expo Guide’ and read all the hundreds of comments there. Hopefully, they’re enough to reassure you not to pay.

Unclaimed Prize Rollout: Macintyre and Dodd ‘Break law’ according to High Court

Spot the Unclaimed Prize Draw mailshots...

LATEST NEWS: Macintyre and Dodd Marketing is breaks law with ‘prize promotions says High Court Judge – Feb 2nd 2011

Well, finally.

The OFT has taken MacIntyre and Dodd to the High Court and finally, more than £13m of your money later, won a ruling that M&D (and other DM Plc companies operated by Mr. Adrian Williams and his various business partners) have acted unlawfully.

Read the BBC report in full here.

According to the OFT “The defendants profited from misleading people, and this judgement means they will have to change their conduct considerably”

Adrian Williams - the man behind Unclaimed Prize Rollout (etc)

While I’m as pleased as anyone about this ruling, the reality is that these people, like all scammers, will just change shape and carry on in another guise until (several years and a few million more pounds of your money later) the OFT wins another ruling and the cycle will begin again.

The fact that these people have been profiting from this scam right up to and including the very day of this High Court ruling (see site stats, above) should convince you they’re not about to change their ways.

If you really want to put an end to this kind of exploitative practice, the simplest thing to do is to stop making yourself vulnerable to people like Andrian Williams and DM Plc in the first place.

How do you do that?

Learn the discipline to NOT respond to free offers / competitions / lotteries / scratch cards for starters. Become more critical about on and offline direct marketing i.e. assume that everything you DIDN’T ask for is a promotion designed to con you out of your money. At best, it’s a hard sell of something you almost certainly don’t need. At worst, it’s the kind of scam that Adrian Williams and his partners deliberately put together to fleece more you out of your money.

No OFT, no bloggers, no BBC reports are going to stop people trying to exploit other people for easy money. You need to protect yourselves first – it’s the only way.

Peter Popoff: online reputation disaster represents no hindrance to religious scammer

Peter Popoff exploits people’s greed, need and vulnerability for financial benefit according to Google results

I happen to agree with that view. So did the highly respected James Randi (who demonstrated Popoff’s wife feeding him ‘divine information’ via radio link in his live ‘ministries’) and so do most of the people writing about Peter Popoff online.

I came across Popoff last night, flipping channels after England’s depressing performance in their World Cup opener. Clare and I watched Popoff and his charming wife Liz promising ‘supernatural debt cancellation’ in return for nothing more than writing in to request their miracle water gift.

A gift which, of course, then turns into floods of direct mail with ever-increasing demands for money – ‘seed gifts’ – to help God to get started sorting out your debt problems.  According to Popoff, you can’t expect God to supernaturally cancel your debt unless you stump up something yourself first. It’s the religious version of the Nigerian funds transfer fee.

Despite having declared himself bankrupt following Randi’s high-profile debunking on American TV (easily available on YouTube) Peter Popoff today pulls in millions of dollars a year through his latest direct mail operation – and pays himself and all the members of his family millions in salaries too. First time round the target was believers with health problems.  Now, in the shadow of the credit crunch, it’s believers with debt problems.

For someone with a really bad online reputation, he’s doing far better than he should – and raises a question about how important online reputation is to a business.  The answer, of course (and Popoff will know this all too well) lies in the likelihood of his intended victims – sorry, ‘market’ – using Google to critically evaluate the things they’re presented with.

Judging by the audience profile at his ministry events shown on TV last night, I’d say that this likelihood was low, to say the least, reminding us that online reputation is only a meaningful concept to those who are already critical and use the web to do some form of due diligence before making decisions.

That greedy, insecure, grubby little people exploit other greedy, vulnerable and grubby people is absolutely no surprise to me. It’s everywhere – scratch the surface of everything British these days and you’ll find this sleaze. What does surprise me is that Peter Popoff can be still pushing this scam on TV and there’s not a watchdog or body that can – or will – stop it.

MacIntyre and Dodd Marketing, Peter Popoff.  Just two – but there are tens of thousands more and our culture gives them carte blanche to operate. Disgusting.

We are a Global Domain Name Registration Centre in Hong Kong

Typo – should read ‘Scam Centre in Hong Kong’

Like all scams, I suppose there are people who fall for this pile of old junk (pun, geddit?). If they didn’t, nobody would do it, right?

This scam reminds me of a caper I always wanted to pull. It goes like this.

You’re in the Lottery queue on a rollover Saturday night.  You watch the numbers the guy in front chooses carefully, then copy them. You: “Ere, mate. I’ve just chosen the same numbers as you.  That means we’ll split that £10m jackpot 50-50. Now, think carefully. That’s got to be worth giving me a tenner to NOT to choose them, wouldn’t you say…?”

Of course the reason I never tried that out in real life is because I’d probably get twatted – and I’d deserve it.  Online, you’re protected from any consequences by all that lovely distance and anonymity – which is, of course, exactly why it pays scammers to try anything and everything.

I do wish they’d avoid choosing names that sound like porn actresses, though. ‘Shawn Michaels’? Lols.

TEMDI – The European Medical Directory: scam or not? You decide

Is TEMDI another directory scam ripping people off with misleading forms or a reputable company?

** Welcome, visitors from Doctors.net.uk **

As usual, you decide.  And to help you, we’d like to build up a list of comments from anyone who feels they’ve been fooled into signing a ‘contract’ for services they don’t want by TEMDI – The European Medical Directory.  If you want to know more, then consult the ever-vigilant Jules Woodell on his site ‘www.stopecg.org’ where you can find full histories of this and many other scams, plus all kinds of other useful information.

My advice is the same as that for another version of this scam (the Expo Guide scam which is currently still very much out there judging from the ever-growing list of comment on this post): don’t pay and don’t even contact them.

Remember, paying once tells them you’re worth bullying for more.  Contacting them by phone tells them you’re afraid and worth bullying.  Responding to them at all ‘qualifies’ you for a step-up in harassment.

The people behind TEMDI – Novachannel AG – have a long and ugly track record of this kind of practice.  The form they use is very similar to those used in all the other directory scams and is carefully designed to make you think you’re signing for a free listing when in fact you’re signing for a 3 year contract at 950 Euros a year. Would they stand a chance in court?  No – but going to court isn’t (never has been) a part of their, ahem, business plan.  They make their money from frightening you into paying.  If a tiny percentage are scared enough to pay, then out of the millions of mail-outs they send every year, they’re making a pretty packet.

We look forward to hearing  your experiences of TEMDI – The European Medical Directory.  The more people report their experiences on sites like this, the harder it wll be for these directories to rip people off.

If you’re approached by an online business directory (of any kind) you should use my simple, common-sense test to find whether they’re worth the money.

You just need to ask two straightforward questions. This test works as well for legal businesses like TouchLocal as it does for scams.

Click the thumbnail (left) to zoom into the test

EmpathUK: scam or not? You decide (we’ll help you…)

Empath UK fails the ‘mu:kaumedia 12 point ‘scam-detector’ test

logo
Someone pointed me at this site today to cast my beady eye over it.

I’m not saying EmpathUk is a scam (you can make up your own minds on that).  What I am saying though, is that it presents itself like one.

Here are some key points to watch out for generally when you’re trying to judge the credibility of an organisation online (particularly in the Third Sector):

1) Do you trust their motive? ‘We’re here to help you give…….’ Do you need their help to give?  Or are they just hoping to cash in on your charitable nature?

2) Is it accredited with or linked to any charitable organisations?  EmpathUk has no connections, partnerships or references therefore no credibility.

3) Does the website look like it was thrown up in a day? Their website is unprofessional and unconvincing and looks like a front that cost little or nothing to put up.

4) Are there any real people to hold accountable? Responsible organisations are fronted by real people who are contactable.  A Google search turns up almost nothing for ‘Mr. Peter Fayle’ (named as ‘Director’ on site).

5) Is it registered with Companies House or with the Charity Commission? Nope and nope. If it’s not a registered organisation how can Mr. Peter Fayle can’t be a ‘Director’?

6) Does it hide its location? EmpathUk gives no evidence of any real world address.  I do, however, know the exact London block of residential flats that the domain is registered to in Peter Fayle’s name (thanks to Google street map and WhoIs domain name registration search)

7) Does it ask you for personal information? EmpathUk wants more details about you than it is prepared to offer about itself.  Look out, it’s phishing time.

8) Do the FAQs fail to answer your most basic concerns? EmpathUk’s FAQs look like they were written to tell you only what they want to tell you.

9) Can you find any history for this organisation or person online? A Google search turns up nothing for EmpathUk.  A genuine new organisation will know that if it has no history it has to make sure that at least its people are real, traceable and have a track record.

10) No useful contact details. No address, no phone number – just a single email address ‘peter.fayle@empathuk.org’. By chance, I did find the following via Google:

Picture 4

Interestingly, note that none of this information is visible on EmpathUk’s website.  The phone number (above) is only visible on this particular Google summary and not on the page it links through to which (you’ll notice) isn’t EmpathUk’s website.

11) Were the website domains registered, er.. like yesterday? EmpathUk’s were.  Ok, that’s unfair.  They registered them two days ago.  On the 9th December 2009 to be exact.

12) Does your gut instinct tell you this is dodgy? If you trusted this, you wouldn’t be here checking.  Whatever you felt, you were probably right.

So there we are.  Is EmpathUk a scam?  As always, you decide.

If you are trying to do some good work for charity and you’re new in the game, then you’re going to have to work hard to give people confidence in who you are, what you’re doing and why.  EmpathUk fails 100% to do that for me – whatever its motivation.

Expo Guide and World Business Directory: Could Twitter kill off these nasty scams?

Could the wisdom of the business crowd decide the fate of Expo Guide and World Business Directory?

TwitterMonsterThe challenge

You’ve arrived here because of my Tweet about the Expo Guide and World Business Directory scams.  First of all, thanks for coming.  Second, I’d like to invite you to take part in an experiment.  Could Twitter kill these nasty scams stone dead?

Have a look at the evidence (below) and if you want to play a part in stopping these scammers, then please RT the Tweet that brought you here to people in your network and let’s see if we can help stop people getting ripped off.

The Scam

As some of you may already know the world of business is still being swept by a family of scams which deliberately set out to fool people into inadvertently signing expensive contracts they don’t want.  An early and well documented version of this is what’s known as the “Construct Data scam” originating from Austria.  The most recent variants of this scourge are European City Guide, Expo-Guide and World Business Directory.

How it works

  • You get a letter in the post (or email with pdf attachment) from the company.  It’s designed to make you think they’re offering you a free listing in their online directory.  It asks you to sign and stamp the form.  You do and send or email it back
  • Nothing happens for a while
  • A couple of months later you get a demand for something in the region of €3,000
  • Their demands direct you to the form where – for the first time – you notice to your horror the tiny, faint small-print saying “signing and stamping this form constitutes a contract for 3 years entry into our directory at c. €900 per year..”.
  • A couple of months later, you start getting various demands.  Eventually, you get formal letters from a debt collection agency.  Now you start to worry.  What if they take you to court?  What if your boss finds out?
  • You write back to the company saying it’s a rip-off and you don’t feel you should have to pay.  Eventually, they graciously agree to let you off with just one year’s fee out of three.  Maybe you pay up so you can put this whole traumatic episode behind you.

This scam has been running for years and shows no sign of stopping.  Why?  Because there will always be enough people out there who can be bullied or shamed into paying some – if not all – of this extortionate fee.

Governments seem to have little or no interest in stopping it.  Watchdogs aren’t particularly bothered.  It’s down to a few individuals like Jules Woodell to campaign against it – see http://stopecg.org/ and http://stopecg.blogspot.com/ for a thorough history of all the main mutations of this scam.  For my own posts on the subject (and to read more than 50 comments from victims) click here.  You’ll get some idea of the kind of worry and distress this scam causes.

This scam is real and current and it’s costing business people like you and me a lot of money, stress and worry.  This site gets 20+ new visitors every day searching for help on this issue – most of whom are new victims of the scam from all over the world.

Personal

For your information, I didn’t get stung personally by these scams (too long in the tooth!).  However, like millions of others, I regularly receive their scammy emails.  My motivation is to use the blog / Google platform to mess up their operation a bit and prevent others from being ripped off ;-)

Newsletter on holiday

The Mu! newsletter has gone on holiday – thanks to all who subscribed

We’re taking a break from writing the newsletter for two reasons: firstly, our newsletter plugin has become extinct and secondly, we’re in a period of evolution here at mukaumedia.

breakThe plugin issue is typical of working in this kind of open-source blogging environment: a piece of software designed to add functionality made by a developer who then loses the motivation to upgrade his plugin in line with the development of the WordPress platform.

The result is something that worked well for a couple of months progressively breaking down and becoming unusable.  Moral of the story?  Don’t bank on anything in the open source world.  Why? Because most people developing for it haven’t worked out how to ‘monetise’ what they’re doing.  No money, no customer service or inclination to support their software.

With regard to mukaumedia, some visitors will know that I’ve been working more and more with Delta7 Change Ltd in London.  That’s been hugely rewarding and exciting so it’s taken up a lot of my time and created the space to have a re-think about what we want to do with mukaumedia in the longer term.  We’re planning on a review towards the end of this year (ideally on a beach somewhere warm).

Meantime, this blog will still be the home of critical feedback (about all things digital, marketing and customer service).  Expect me to carry on the crusade against nasty online ripoffs like Expo Guide and World Business Directory as well as pointing out the kinds of do’s and don’ts that we’ve learned (usually the hard way!) from our 3 years in this business.

Once again, many thanks to those who’ve subscribed to our newsletter over the last year.  If you’d like to stay in the loop, then please feel free to follow me on Twitter here.

World Business Directory / Expo-Guide: no wonder they get away with it

Why do scams like World Business Guide and Expo-Guide get away with their fraudulent behaviour?

Because not a single one of the UK’s major, publicly-funded agencies have any idea they exist.

A search on the following websites gave no results whatsoever: Serious Fraud Office, Metropolitan Police Service, SOCA (Serious Organised Crime Agency), Home Office, CIFAS, IC3.

This fraud (and variants of it) have been known about for years.  The best (and disgraceful to report – ONLY) resource online about this nasty form of scam is Jules Woodell’s ‘StopECG‘ site.  Despite repeated personal attacks, JW has continued to wage war on these people single-handed.

If you’ve been scammed by these people (who use forms designed to trick you into signing a contract for services you think are free but in fact cost around £1000 a year for three years) then you ought to be disgusted that no-one in authority has any idea about it.

The fact that it’s down to people like Jules Woodell and, to a much lesser extent me, to try to stop people being defrauded is a national disgrace.  What’s even more worrying is how unaware government, police and legislators in this country are in respect of these matters.  And while that is the case, expect to be ripped off at pretty much every turn.

As an amusing yet depressing footnote to this post, my quick search for official online fraud advice turned up this nasty piece of work (below) masquerading as helpful advice. Exploitation at £1.50 a minute or more.

Picture 4