Thursday, 15 October 2009

The Story so far....

This is my first post onto my blog. I have set this up as a warning to small businesses out there and also would welcome any help or advise you may have for me. I have got stuck into a 87 month contract for a phone system that I wasn't aware I was signing up to. I am faced with paying over £45000 over 87 months, rather than 12 months I thought I was signing up for, and to make it worse the company has disappeared.

Initial Contact by BC Telecom
In July 2008 I was contacted by James Page of BC Telecom who said that this company were working in conjunction with British Telecom and that all telephones needed to be upgraded from analogue to digital in the next 3 years. Having considered his proposal I decided to accept his offer for the very reason that he was able to spread the cost over 12 months. I was told that the Panasonic system in both shops were worth approximately £1200 and together with the intallation charges and the first year's support, was satisified with a total cost of £2400 in both shops plus interest. In addition, I was told that I would need a UPS in the Hertford shop as I had 2 lines. I was told that this had a value of £500 and together with installation and first year's support agreed to a total cost of £1200 including interest. In good faith I signed the agreement he placed before me and when I asked for a copy was told it needed countersigning by the finance company before one was sent. Shortly afterwards I received an 'annual' tax invoice which I took to be verification of the one year contract and thought nothing more of it - one for each of the telephone systems and one for the UPS.

One Year On, A Scam Is Detected....
In July 2009 I was horrified to receive another annual tax invoice from each of the leases. I tried to contact James Page and his number was no longer valid. BC Telecom had disappeared and Clearlink Communications who are listed as the supplier no longer deal with telephone systems. I phoned each of the lease companies, ING, BNP PARIBAS and Siemens Financial Services. Each one of them said I had signed a contract with them for 87 months and each sent me an e-mail with a copy of the contract. Siemens gave me a number of Otelo, which deals with communications complaints, but they only deal with complaints against companies that are members of their services and suprise, suprise, BC Telecom is not one of them. ING said that they I have no evidence to support my claim and there is little further assistance they can offer as my supplier is no longer training. They go on to state that my complain has now been closed.
Since then I have spoken to a solicitor who said that by the letter of the law I am required to pay the remaining amount. I have also spoken to FSB and Business Link who couldn't help me and said the only way out is to prove my signature is fraud. Now, after 15 months I have now stopped paying the leasing companies but as I am not a limited company, my house is at risk if I do not keep up repayments I could take it to court, but the judge may follow by the letter of the law or a take a moral stance, however, I don't know whether to do this as my house and business is at risk.

Other Business Found Who Were Conned......
By chance, I noticed in the local paper, the Comet, that a care home in Stevenage were also hit by the same people and are required to pay a total of £33000 for 27 telephones when they only ordered one. They have stopped paying but ING are threatening to take them to Crown Court for non payment.

There is clearly no concievable reason why anyone would pay £8700 for an uninterruptable power supply which has a value of £500 or £17400 for a phone in the Hertford shop, and £17400 in the WGC, in that shop I have also signed up for a monthly insurance of £19.34 (total £16,82,58) for equipment that is worth a maximum of £1200 for each phone system. Surely organisations such as these leasing companies should have had a system in place for checking the validity of agreements and that alarm bells should have been ringing, or perhaps that is why I have 3 leases with 3 different leasing companies. I additionally wouldn't have signed for 87 months as telephone equipment is out of date very quickly and certainly is not expected to last over 7 years, also I only have 3 years left on my Hertford shop lease at the time of signing the telephone contract and would not to be wanting to pay something like this for a further 4+ years after the business closes. At present I am paying over £500 per month to these companies. I cannot believe that there is no way of getting out of this contract. BC telecom and James Page contacted me, the care home and who knows how many other businesses with the sole intention of duping small businesses out of money. The Stevenage care home which is a charity organisation was also contacted with a person dealing with BC telecom 18 months previously who was then working for a company called Business Telecom. I wondered whether the same people are going into bankrupcy then restarting the business under other names willfully so that they could not be traced so I started to investigate further.

Frustration As No One Seems To Be Able To Help!......
In some ways I felt better when I had spoken to charity care home as before I was extremely embarassed, felt very stupid that I could have fallen for the scam and quite vunerable. The lady at the care home was extremely efficient, very bright and very observant. I wouldn't have wished this on anyone but feel relieved that I wasn't the only one to fall for it.

I contacted Ofcom and they said that they regulate telephone lines etc not equipment and the only option they can advise is to seek independent legal advice. On calling my insurance, I discovered after several phone calls that although I had £50000 legal cover, I was only covered for between £250 and £5000 for contractural issues. I contact both my local MPs, Mark Prisk and Grant Shapps and then started to talk to all my customers, many of whom are local business people. I also contacted the BBC One Show, Watchdog, Daily Mail, Daily Express with no response from them. I also contacted The Sunday Times and had a number of e-mails back from them offering some advice. Which? suggested I contact Consumer Direct. Consumer Direct took details and passed it onto Trading Standards. I also started Twittering about it as I think the more who know about them, the better as it is likely they are still trading somewhere else under a different name. From Twitter, I find the UK Business Forum website and post details of the scam,

In desperation, I post details on my facebook account (JulieNatHealth) and one of my friends finds details about a director of BC Telecom The facebook of one of the directors of BC telecom. (I recognise him from a store visit).

Definitely him because he's engaged to Charlotte Woolley who was the company secretary

He's a fan of this pub; which ties up with his address listed here:

This company could be linked to him: same type of company and products. Found it from this page: which lists him as a contact, there's a phone number.

The registered address for BTS Digital matches a previous address for BC Telecom.

SS11 8YU

The website of the btsdigital is scarily similar to the details I remember from BC Telecom. It looks like they are still trading as a telecom company with a PO Box in Hatfield!

After posting onto UK Business Forum, the next morning, I have contact from a Doctor in Harpenden who also has been scammed by the same people, until then she had only told a few close friends.

Another person from the forum did a bit of searching and found that on searching at Companies House there are 3 separate new companies (each with a telecoms related name) that have sprung up since from the 2 directors and company secretary of BC Telecom Ltd. In particular the 2 directors seem to have a history of dissolved companies.

I then went to the local papers and managed to hit the front pages of both the Hertfordshire Mercury and Welwyn Hatfield Times. From that 3 more businesses have come forward, all with very similar stories. Herts Trading standards are now looking into the case, Norfolk Trading Standards are already investigating Business telecom which was a precursor to BC Telecom. There are also investigations into Shire leasing, the intermediary, which brokered many of these leases, they also brokered around 1,000 leases of telephone equipment supplied by Business Telecom Ltd, whose managing director and two employees have just been charged with conspiracy to defraud. I also have a lease with Shire leasing in my case and they seem to be involved in many others who have come forward. Please see web site under articles about Shire leasing.

On 5th October I received an e-mail from a GP in Essex who also had dealings with BC Telecom. The correspondence was as follows:

JulieI saw the entry beneath on line. I attach a story from GP newspaper (see attachment) and one from Leasing Life (see below) which may be of interest.These people are obviously operating in Essex and Norfolk as well as in your part of the world. Please feel free to give your Trading Standards people my contact details as I have some information which may be of use to them.I’m sure the people responsible are going to end up behind bars - including Mr James Page of BC Telecom.With best wishes Dr John Cormack

Leasing LifeNewsShire-brokered leases linked to fresh fraud allegationsShire Leasing already faces pressure from the collapse of hundreds of leases connected to the suppliers Elumina Iberica, Global Telecoms & Technology and Lifestyle TV Ltd.The intermediary, which brokered many of these leases, also brokered around 1,000 leases of telephone equipment supplied by Business Telecom Ltd, whose managing director and two employees have just been charged with conspiracy to defraud.It is claimed that the trio – Christopher Boughton-Fox, MD of Business Telecom Ltd, Jonathan Parish and Neil Debenham – persuaded people to enter into lease arrangements for the supply of telecommunications systems and accessories by falsely representing that Business Telecom was connected with or the business arm of British Telecom PLC.Shire Leasing brokered around 1,000 leases over a 10-year period with Business Telecom Ltd. Boughton-Fox is alleged to have induced businesses and individuals across East Anglia to sign up to contracts on a false basis between January 2005 and February 2008.The prosecution by Norfolk County Council Trading Standards alleges that lease customers – which, according to trading standard investigators, include schools in Norfolk and neighbouring counties – were told their telephone lines and equipment were about to be made obsolete due to digitisation of the network and had to switch over to the new systems by law.The prosecution is being brought by Norfolk County Council Trading Standards. All three appeared earlier this month for a preliminary hearing and were bailed to appear again on September 18 for a further hearing.Shire Leasing declined to comment.

NewsShire Leasing instructs DLA Piper to defend itselfShire Leasing has instructed one of Britain’s largest law firms to defend itself against multi party claims being brought by customers at the centre of the services for leases scandal.Stewart Plant, a partner at DLA Piper, is leading a team of lawyers now advising Shire, Britain’s largest leasing brokerage, on allegations being levelled against it by a large number of customers of the collapsed supplier Global Telecoms & Technology.The claimants say they are being overcharged on telecoms equipment leases which, it is alleged, they were led to believe by Global include services such as phone line and broadband rentals. ING Lease UK has reassigned to Shire some of these leases after customers – many of whom have joined a nationwide action group called Give Me Back My Money Back Ltd – stopped paying their lease rentals.

(See attached file: GPs angered over practice telephone system charges - article Sept 2009.doc)

BNP Paribas:
On the 6th October 2009 I received a letter saying that BNP is the financier of the equipment. They played no part in the negotiations. Any representation made by the supplier Clearlink Communication is not binding on HFGL Ltd. This is the position in law and an acknowlegment to me to this effect is contained at clause 4 and 5 of the agreement.

It goes on to say that they have spoken to their internal legal team who have advised that any queries I have regarding the equipment or lease peiod agreed should be directed to Shire Leasing the broker and the supplier Clearlink Communications.

The letter also advised me to seek legal advice as non payment of the rentals due to them may lead to legal action against me to recover the debt. It says that the signed agreement makes it quite clear the period of hire and amount of retals and my signed acceptance confirms that I am accepting the equipment, therefore they will not cancel the agreement and refund monies paid.

It states that they remind me that a failure to pay the rentals amount to a repudiatory breach of the agreement. If the rentals remain unpaid then they will have no alternative other than to terminate the agreement and arrange for the equipment to be collected. Thereafter they will provide me with details of the termination sum which must be paid in accordance with clause 10 of the agreement.

It then suggests that I should contact the Financial Ombudsman Service.

On 21st October I received a further letter about arrears in payment. On 23rd October I contacted a customer advisor, Hilary, who asked if I definately wanted to terminate the agreement which I said I did. She said that they would take court action.

28th August 2009: The letter says that I have no evidence to support my claim, there is little further assistance that can be offered as my supplier is no longer trading. The only way in which the contract for finance with ING lease can be cancelled is to settle the finance on the agreement. However, they advise me that in view of the above infomation my complaint has been closed.

14th October 2009: A letter states that whilst they sympathise with concerns I have raised, they refer me back to the above letter which advise me that my contract shows clearly the payments due along with the term. They state that ING lease has paid my supplier based on my signature of the documentation provided and as I have provided no evidence to support my concerns they are unable to escalate my complaint. Therefore they advise me that my complaint remains closed.

8th September 2009: They wrote to me to state that they had been advised by Shire leasing that they have spoken to me regarding the lease, and they the matter is closed due to the contract that I have signed.

10th November 2009: I spoke to an advisor in the debt recovery team. She was adamant that I needed to pay my arrears.

Financial Ombudsman Service:
11th November 2009: I spoke to a member of the above service called Hannah Scott, she said that she would write to Shire leasing on my behalf and within 8 weeks they must respond.