“Hello, we’re working with Mendip Council and the VOA and you are paying the wrong council tax”.
That is how my conversation started with some fraudsters last week. I had been put on to them by a member who had had a call and though fairly convinced it was a scam just wanted to make sure.
The helpful lady on the phone explained that the business rates were incorrect and all she had to do was send one of their consultants’ round who would explain the process and start the review process. No payment would be due until that stage.
So, is this really a scam or just slightly aggressive cold-call sales?
The first thing to say is that not all scams are illegal, i.e. if someone charges £50 to clean your car when it could be done equally well for £10, one mighty say I have been scammed but no law has actually been broken. In this case a consultant coming around and helping your business save money is neither unusual nor illegal. However, alarm bells were ringing with this case from the beginning.
The caller’s opening statement was “We are working with Mendip Council and the VOA”, so we spoke to both and I can confirm that neither employs any outside companies to ensure that households or businesses pay the correct tax. So, at the very least the company involved is guilty of misrepresentation.
The next red flag was their website, which prominently featured the image below:
Normally when businesses display their trust ratings, they are clickable links to Feefo or Trustpilot and one can see the reviews and a summary, the above is not clickable and includes no supporting evidence.
Similarly, it didn’t take us long to check out their registered office, which is the same building that has an amazing 3,954 companies registered at the same address. So, its either a huge building or just a virtual office that offers companies the service to register their business address despite not being physically present. Some legitimate businesses use services such as this but so do a lot of scammers!
Another little trick these guys are using on their website is by displaying the ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office) logo and their registration number. Every GDPR compliant business must be a member, however registration is merely a case of filling out an online form and paying £140. It is not intended to endorse in any way or lend credibility.
And if there was still any doubt, the website invites you to meet the team and shows photographs of three employees and what they do. The reality is that the people pictured have totally different names, don’t work there and have simply had their images stolen.
All the above combined are simply things that a legitimate company would not do.
Even as long ago as 2013 the UK Government closed down a number of such operations because of “public interest”. Those firms were achieving rate reductions for just 1-3% of their customers.
What can we learn from all this?
Firstly, don’t buy anything from a cold call, it’s the fraudsters favourite way to sell and it is not worth the risk.
Secondly, don’t be fooled by a smart website, these people have plenty of money to make it seem substantial.
Thirdly, if you think that you are paying the wrong business rates, click on this government link to have them checked for no charge.
The last little lesson from this is one we get lots of questions about and that is who exactly are these scammers? A lot of people assume that the calls are men calling from Asia or Eastern Europe when in fact this was a nicely spoken lady from England and the only registered Director of that company is also a woman. Similarly, when I called back another English lady answered the phone. So, the lesson here is that, as we find with most of these contact-based scams, the problems are home-grown and not going away anytime soon.
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