08/11/2006

Local businesses warned of 'rogue callers'

Local businesses are being warned to be on their guard when a rogue internet company comes ‘cold calling’.

A number of alleged complaints about the company, reported to be Glasgow based Iomart, are being examined by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment’s (DETI.)

Trading Standards Service has advised businesses to be wary if approached by a company selling internet directory services and website services.

Ed Cairns of Trading Standards Service said business should be aware: “If you decide you want a service you should ensure that you have fully read the terms and conditions before entering into any contract and before giving out your credit card details.”

In addition to a poor or incomplete service, traders have also reported unauthorised withdrawals from their credit card accounts, bills and demands for hundreds of pounds.

The company ‘cold calls’ local businesses, particularly small businesses, offering to advertise the services of the business either using their on-line directory service or their website design service.

Once the business agrees to the service and gives their credit card details over the phone, they are effectively locked into a contract that renews each year.

Traders who have been affected by the scam claim to have been charged more than agreed, have not been told that the contract will automatically renew unless cancelled, and are assured they have a cooling off period when no cancellation is allowed.

DETI claim that a number of complainants experienced services that are substandard, and in many cases the information advertised on the websites is incorrect and customers have difficulties in getting the information corrected through the poor customer service facilities offered by the company.

One Lurgan businessman who runs a construction-related business was sold an internet directory service and was told this would cost £19.95 per month for a 12 month period.

He later discovered that the company had taken the total of the yearly subscription up front and an extra set up charge of £199.95.

In total the company had made an unauthorised withdrawal of £516.24 from his credit card. He said: “I was totally misled by this company and I never would have agreed to this service if I had been given all the information.”

Advertising regulatory body, the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) recommends that buyers insist on some form of accredited form of verification of a website’s visitor numbers, as well as ensuring that payment is safeguarded, either by paying after receipt of an invoice, or by use of a reputable third party such as Paypal.

4NI Managing Director Derek Carstairs said: “I am pleased to see Northern Ireland businesses being informed and protected from these rogue traders.

“Following a lengthy audit process commencing some six months ago, we expect to have ABC figures published for 4NI within the next two weeks."

Anyone concerned about or want advice on unwanted cold calls please contact ConsumerLine on 0845 600 6262 or log onto www.consumerline.org

(SP/EF)

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