Monday, 24 October 2016

Appeal to authority

I'm hoping that UK-based cold callers will be deterred by a change in the law, making company directors personally liable for fines of up to half a million pounds for breaching the regulations intended to stop people being pestered with unwanted sales calls. Sadly, I expect that the pests will soon rise to the challenge of getting round the new rules.

Having said that, I'll probably never again come across another telesales racket more perfect than the people who cold called the unwary, promising to help them get rid of cold calls (for a fee). What the folk who made cold calls selling a cold call blocking service were doing was skimming a fee off unwary punters who didn't realise that there was a free service out there (in this case, the Telephone Preference Service).

Less paradoxical forms of this type of skimming are available. Somebody might, for example, ring you, suggesting that you might be paying too much Council Tax, due to your home having been placed in the wrong Council Tax band, and offering to check this, potentially SAVING YOU £££££!

The right thing to say at this point is that you can check your own band "in 10 minutes, at no cost" and appeal directly to your local Valuation Office Agency (VOA) if you think that your banding is wrong. If your appeal is rejected, but you still think your banding is incorrect, you can take your appeal further, to the appropriate tribunal.

It's all there on the relevant site, which is pretty clear and understandable (government websites get a lot of criticism - sometimes with good reason - but this particular one tells you what you need to know and I can't see much to moan about).

The wrong thing to do is to express any interest in the cold caller's service.

The wrongest thing to do is to give the cold caller your credit/bank card details. Not unless you want to receive a letter like this:

"Dear [your name here]

Claimers UK processed your payment of £65 for the administration fee but unfortunately  this transaction had been charged back by your bank informing us that you haven't authorised or participated in this transaction.
All our sales lines are recorded and we have evidence of you verbally agreeing to this transaction there for [sic] you are bound by the terms and conditions.

Shore claims have completed and finished [sic - how do "completed" and "finished" not mean the same thing?] your checks in regard to getting your council tax lowered.
But have not been paid for the work that has been carried out.

Please look up terms and conditions 2.4 on your policy paper work that was sent to you.

To arrange payment of this account please call us on 08448009426 or alternatively send in a cheque of [sic] the full amount of £65 to:
Claimers UK LTD, 7 Dukes Court, Bognor Road, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 8FX.

If payment is not received by [insert deadline] we may recommend to Shore claims ltd that they commence legal  proceedings to recover the full outstanding balance. These actions may incur additional costs for which you may be held liable. 
Please do not underestimate the seriousness of this matter.

Yours sincerely,

[illegible scribble]

Account Manager
Claimers UK Ltd"

Devon and Cornwall Police issued a statement earlier in the year, warning people against such scams (specifically naming Claimers UK Ltd), and asking for individuals to report any offences to Action Fraud by calling 0300 1232040, or visiting

I'm guessing that the people behind this operation are hoping that the person prospect who picks up the phone is elderly, trusting and not very confident about, or interested in, this newfangled Internet and therefore unlikely to discover, within a couple of clicks, that you can investigate this for yourself for free and go directly to the relevant authority to appeal, if you think there's a problem with your banding. In this case an appeal to (your local) authority isn't a logical fallacy - so long as you do the appealing yourself and don't outsource the process to some cold-calling skimmer.

Not that people from the generations that are used to finding stuff out with an Internet search should be too smug, as the skimmers are lurking on the Net, too. Up until quite recently, people who were in a hurry to renew their passports might have inadvertently clicked on a site with the same look and feel as the official passport renewal site, which actually belonged to a private company which skimmed off an admin fee for processing your passport request and forwarding it on to the correct authorities. It looks as if they've cracked down on that particular trick recently (when I googled "passport renewal" just now, the official site came up as the first search result - in the past, operators of lookalike sites have used SEO jiggery-pokery to make their sites appear above the official one in the search results), but it still pays to be wary.