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.

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