Clear Smart

The website www.clear-smart.co.uk entices people by advertising expensive TVs at discount prices. The discounts aren’t huge – these scammers know not to make it obvious that it’s a con trick. So the discount is enough to interest you but not warn you of illegality.

Clear Smart is not a company - just a trade name. When it comes to payment then the real company CS Online Retail Limited becomes apparent. They may also trade under other names – we don’t know.

The Sell

The TVs for sale are by the big manufacturers e.g. Samsung and are the high spec models i.e. expensive (£1,000+).

You select what you want on the website, then call to place the order.  Everything seems professional and legitimate so far.

They have the items in stock and will dispatch the following day. You place your order and then the problems start. Your card payment is rejected. You try again – still rejected. Try another card – still rejected. They say it must be your bank at fault.  (If you contact your bank at this stage you would find that the card has not been presented for payment – it’s all a setup).

Now what can you do?

Switch to Direct Payment

Clear Smart offer an alternative – pay by bank transfer and they will give you a small discount for the trouble.

The payment goes to an account named CS Online Services.

The danger of paying by bank transfer is that once the money has been sent it is most likely then moved to another account and you have no chance of getting it back should there be a problem.    

Customer Services

There is no TV but now they play the delay game. You get emails saying that the TV has been delayed or damaged in transit or lost or is out of stock – anything to put you off for a while.

Phoning customer services gets the same message, until in time they get fed up with being asked for the TV and make it very clear that you won’t get a TV and you cannot have your money back.

Meanwhile they are still selling these non-existent TVs to more people, using the same tricks.

What Can Be Done to Stop The Scammers?

As with any serious scam, it should be reported to the Police. You need a Police report number if you are going to claim on your insurance. You can also report it to Action Fraud which is part of the Police Service.

The Company - CS Online Retail Limited

This company was created in 2013 and has two directors Charlotte Catherine Hicks of York and Nigel Peter Davis of Weybridge. There was a Stuart Hicks named as Director when the company was incorporated.

Whether these are active people in the scammers business is unknown. Nigel Peter David lists his occupation as accountant.

The company does register annual accounts etc. with companies house and claims to have very little money.

 

If you know anything about Clear-Smart or CS Online Services (CS Online Retail) then let me know by email.

Many of us buy products and services online and its always a good idea to look at reviews of the company and their products/services before choosing what to buy. Surveys suggest that more than half of the adults in Britain, around 25 million people, use online reviews such as on  Amazon, eBAY, Tripadvisor, Foursquare and Checkatrade to provide confidence in the product/service/person, avoid bad items and find the best deals.

We rely on those reviews being honest – by people who have actually used the relevant product or service and telling about their experience objectively.

But, some companies cheat – they pay others to create fake reviews  in order to get more business. Sometimes they try to cover up bad reviews by posting lots of fake positive reviews and so on. This distorts the situation and is dishonest. If a company ‘distorts’ online reviews then they are in breach of the Consumer Protection Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

The Competition and Markets Authority says that shoppers who use the internet to research hotels, books, electronics and other purchases are being routinely misled by millions of fake reviews orchestrated by companies to trick potential customers.

It can be difficult to tell the difference between genuine consumer review and fake ones. Consumer expert Kaitlyn Wells (ConsumerReports.org) says you can easily spot illegitimate reviews when they either are too gushy or are too negative, while failing to explain how they came to their conclusions about a product.

Why are these reviews so important?

Experts on the power of customer reviews believe that the presence of good reviews can convert prospects into  sales three times better than without such reviews and increasingly people search for reviews and may ignore sites that don’t have them.

This problem of distortion is not new. Magazine reviews have always been a little suspect as it is well known that the reviewers are given free products and sometimes trips to great places to review the products. So is their opinion completely unaffected?

Also, the bloggers and vloggers who do product reviews face this problem as their opinions can carry a lot of weight but they are commonly offered free products to test.  Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

Amazon

Amazon reviews were designed to counter this problems with bias, by getting  the consumers to write about their experiences. It’s a great idea until people start to misuse it.  Amazon says the reviews are good as long as the reviewers are not paid and don’t get any compensation in any form other than free use of the product for the purpose of reviewing.

Amazon has said the their goal is to make reviews as useful as possible for customers and they continue to use a number of mechanisms to detect and remove the small fraction of reviews that violate their guidelines.

Negative Reviews

Some businesses hire online reputation management companies to help them repair damage ‎caused by negative online reviews. These companies use a variety of methods to achieve this aim but anyone using these companies should be aware that creating fake online reviews is illegal so they need to check the methods to be used and not just turn a blind eye.

An investigation by The Times newspaper last year found that hotel owners in the UK were paying up to ‎‎£10,000 to agencies that promised to improve their review rankings.

There are also times when underhand businesses pay for negative reviews of a competitor to be posted on the competitors website. This is clearly very wrong. There are even examples of scammers posting a series of fake negative reviews  against a business then the business is offered a way out of that for a price.

Taking Action to Stop Fake Reviews

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) says that consumers who research hotels, books and other purchases online are being misled by millions of fake reviews orchestrated by businesses to misdirect potential customers.

A CMA investigation into Total SEO & Marketing Ltd, a search engine optimisation and online marketing company, found that between 2014 and 2015 it had written over 800 fake positive reviews for 86 small businesses that were published across 26 different websites which contain customer reviews.

Total SEO has co-operated with the CMA’s consumer law investigation. The company, and its directors, have undertaken to the CMA that they:

·         have ceased the practice of writing fake reviews for their clients; and

·         will take steps to remove the fake reviews already posted online.

In addition to this action, the CMA has written to Total SEO’s clients to warn them that third parties writing fake reviews on their behalf might lead to them breaking the law themselves. The small businesses concerned include car dealers, mechanics, landscape gardeners and other tradespeople.

Government Action

Since June 2015, The UK government Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS)  has been asking the public to provide evidence of instances where online reviews and endorsements may be unlawful. They are expecting further  examples of:-

·         fake reviews being posted onto review sites

·         negative reviews not being published

·         businesses paying for endorsements in blogs and other online articles without this being made clear to consumers

As well as creating new consumer protection rules the Government said it may build new powers to apply civil fines to businesses who do not comply.

 

If you have any experiences with scammers, spammers or time-wasters do let me know – go to the About page then Contact Us

My opinion is that MLM is not a scam but clearly there are people who setup scams using MLM.

 

Q.           What is Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) ?

You buy the products from your single supplier and sell them to your customers.

BUT you also recruit more ‘MLM marketers’ to sell the product and you get a percentage of the sales they make. Likewise, whoever recruited you gets a percentage of the sales that you make.

The people who just sell, can make money – often working when they choose for as long or short a time as they wish. But it’s the people who recruit a lot of other people who make the big money.

Avon

Avon cosmetics are known to most people either directly or through the catalogues pushed through the door.

Avon was setup in the late 1800s in America and the first Avon person was a man. Avon was always about direct selling on the doorstep. Then more recently Avon turned to MLM and encourages its reps to recruit and train their own teams of reps and get commission from their sales.  

Some say this has ruined Avon as people spend their time recruiting rather than selling and that by its nature MLM is fundamentally wrong as when pushed hard it becomes effectively a pyramid selling scheme.

Avon says they avoid the excesses of MLM by limiting commission to only three generations.  i.e. you recruit a team and they each recruit a team and they each recruit a team and you get commission from all of them.

MLM Companies

There are many successful and long lived MLM operations including Herbalife,   Mary Kay,  Young Living Essential Oils,  Origami Owl jewellery,  Stella and Dot, Isagenix,  Nerium International and  Rodan & Fields. 

It’s easy to see the attraction of these schemes – work from home, own your business, work the hours you choose, the more you work the more money you get and so on. And for many people this works out well to provide a supplementary income or even a main income.

But there are also many MLM operations that came crashing down including Vemma nutrition (shut down in 2015 by the FTC) ,  Mona Vie Health Drinks (admitted that only 14% of distributors make any money) ,  Wake Up Now financial management (bankrupt in 2015; admitted only 5% of distributors made money).

Multi-Level Marketing is also known as Network Marketing, Direct Marketing, Matrix Marketing and more titles and they sell everything from vacuum cleaners to candles to computers to properties.

Q             What’s the main difference between MLM and Pyramid Selling?

If the money you make is basically from selling a product or service to a consumer of that product or service then you’re probably in a good business. But if the money you make is basically from how many others you can recruit then it’s a pyramid scheme and you should think about getting out before it collapses.

 The Consumer Awareness Institute analysed data from different network companies and found that the least successful MLM was Amway where 99.99 percent of distributors lost money. The best of these companies was Herbalife. Only 99.42% of their distributors lost money.

That is frighteningly poor.

The Herbalife Story

In February 1980, Mark Hughes began selling the original Herbalife weight management product from the trunk of his car. His stated goal was to change the nutritional habits of the world.

His first product was a protein shake designed to help people manage their weight. From the beginning he ran the company as MLM.

In 1985, the California Attorney General sued the company for making inflated claims about the efficacy of its products. The company settled the suit for $850,000. In 1986, Herbalife became a publicly traded company on the NASDAQ, and in 1996 Herbalife reached US$1 billion in annual sales.

Herbalife reported net sales of US$3.825 billion in 2014, a 21% decrease over 2013, and net income of $308.7 million. It is incorporated in the Cayman Islands, and its corporate headquarters are there.

The company operates internationally and distributes its products in 95 countries, as of July 2015. The MLM compensation structure consists of commissions, royalties and bonuses on sales done by a distributor's downline (the people they have sponsored as new recruits). In 2014, approximately 1.4% of distributors in the USA received over $5,000 in bonuses per year  and 0.25% received over $50,000. These figures do not include income from product sales nor do they include the costs incurred by distributors.

It is very clear that few people who join Herbalife will ever make any money from the company.

 Herbalife came under investigation by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. In July 2016 for being a pyramid scheme.. Herbalife agreed to pay $200 million in a settlement and is subject to a set of restrictions to effectively stop it being a pyramid scheme.

Herbalife do sell health products but their main business is selling the rights to sell Herbalife ie.e. the MLM scheme.

Adverts for Herbalife talk about the products but also about the ‘business opportunity’.

Q. The company has been around for many years and that seems unlikely if it really is a pyramid scheme. Surely it would have collapsed?

All pyramid schemes eventually run out of new ‘distributors’ and collapse but that can take years especially if the scheme expands overseas as Herbalife has done.

You can choose to be in Network Marketing /MLM/Matrix Marketing /whatever new name is used, but at least go into it with your eyes open and the realisation that few people ever make money from it.

If you have any experiences with scammers, spammers or time-waster do let me know – go to the About page then Contact Us

 

Fraud Graphic 

1. Ringtone scams                                                   

Ringtone scams tend to be targeted at younger people and were very prevalent when mobile phones first had the ability to change ringtones. Periodically these scams still turn up. The scam attracts victims by offering them a ‘free’ ringtone, but by accepting this  the user is subscribed to a regular service and payment each month that they didn’t know about.

2. Car Insurance 

The caller says you're eligible for cheaper car insurance. The scam is that they get your personal information and card details which can be used for theft from you and/or identity theft.

3. Government Awards 

The caller claims that you have won a government award, just for being a good citizen.  The scam element is that you have to pay a processing fee or something similar to get the award.

4. BT Disconnection Scam

A caller claiming to be from BT tells you that your number is due to be disconnected due to non-payment of the latest bill. Only immediate payment can prevent the disconnection. Sometimes the scammer will tell you to put the phone down and try calling someone. This proves to be impossible as the scammer holds the line open. Then the scammer disconnects and calls back to collect the money.

 5. Missed Call scam

If you are in the habit or automatically calling any number where the person failed to get through to you – don’t! This can be a bad idea and you should think before calling back.  The scammer calls and immediately terminates the call but when you call back it’s on a premium rate line that can charge up to £3 per minute.

6. Technical Support Virus scam

This is a very common scam where the caller claims they are calling from Microsoft or your Internet broadband supplier and tells you that you have a virus on your computer. The caller goes on to take control of your computer, convince you there is a major problem and charge you for removing that non-existent problem.

7. Telephone Lottery Scams

The caller tells you that you’ve won a prize draw or lottery.  This is a form of advance fee scam as the caller then needs a small payment to release the winnings.

8. Payday loans

The caller targets those who have applied for a payday loan and claim to be a debt collector. They demand payment and late fees and some people have been threatened unless they pay up. The scammers sometimes call people who don’t have such loans but the threatening nature of the call can make them pay up anyway.

9. Mobile phone insurance

After purchasing a new mobile phone you may receive a call supposedly from the shop where you bought the phone. They say they forgot to tell you about the free insurance deal. On signing up for this they take your payment details supposedly as verification but in fact just want those details to sell to other scammers. There is no free insurance.

10. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC)

 HMRC have recently warned customers about calls from scammers pretending to be the taxman. The caller tells you that you’re due a tax rebate and asks you for your bank details so the money can be paid into your account. There is no money and the scammer obtains your bank details for their own illegal use.

 Do you have an opinion on this matter? Please comment in the box below.

 

 

 

Click here to listen to Ten Most Common Scams podcast

 

1.     Online Shopping and Auction Scams

Online auction sites such as eBAY are huge business and there are con artists who pose as buyers. They appear to pay for the goods that you then send to them. However, the payment bounces and you cannot get your goods back. There are also sellers who take your money but don’t send the goods or claim to have sent them but they never get to you.

If buying, reduce your risk by only buying from suppliers that have high numbers of sales and high satisfaction ratings.

2.        Lottery Scams

This can be for the UK lottery or Euromilions or any other lottery around the world.

Some scams are lottery clubs that sign you up but then charge you for buying tickets you didn’t ask for, or fail to buy any tickets and keep charging you.

Alternatively you receive notification that you have won a lottery. If you didn’t enter then you cannot possibly have won but some people are conned into thinking it’s possible.  You may be asked for an admin fee or release fee in order to gain the prize money but it never appears.

3.     Premium Rate Telephone Number Scam

You receive a letter or email or text message or automated voicemail telling you that you have won a large prize and all you need to do to claim it is call a phone number. This turns out to be a premium rate number costing you up to £4 per minute. You will invariably be kept on hold for a long time, all the while racking up more costs. If you do actually win something it will have insignificant value compared to the cost of your phone call.
Over a million people a year fall victim to this, according to the Office of Fair Trading.

4.     Identity Theft

Identity theft occurs when someone assumes your identity to carry out fraud or other criminal acts. The fraudsters can get the information they need to assume your identity from a variety of sources, including by stealing your wallet, rifling through your trash, by compromising your credit or bank information etc. They may approach you in person, by telephone, or on the Internet and ask you for the information by means of some fake situation.

A Phishing Scams is where the sender pretends to work for a trustworthy organisation  as a way to get you to divulge identity information  and/or financial information such as credit card details or bank accounts and passwords.

This can involve emails that look as if they are from your bank or HMRC or the Inland Revenue or similar trusted organisation and they have a story that leads to you handing over vital information which they can then use to steal money from you. Sometimes they create fake websites that look like the trusted organisation. You click in an email expecting to get to the organisation but end up at the fake site and enter your identity details, account numbers etc. 

5.     Nigerian Letter or “419” Fraud

This is a scam whereby you are promised a large sum of money in return for a small advance fee. But the large sum is from a dubious source such as a person claiming to be a Nigerian government worker who needs to move the money out of the country and will share it with you in return for that advance fee.

The ‘advance’ fee may be needed to sort out an application or open a bank box or deal with government red tape. Of course, there is no large sum of money.

There are other forms of the ‘Advance Fee’ scam that may involve loans, investments etc.

6.     Dating Scam

Scammers take advantage of people looking for romantic partners, via dating websites, apps or social media by pretending to be prospective romantic partners.

Then once hooked, they play on emotional triggers, asking for money for a sick relative or for a plane ticket to come and visit  and will happily take your money but never appear. Or they may seek gifts or personal details so as to carry out identity fraud.

7.     Holiday Scam

This can take the form of a holiday or flights or holiday accommodation that you pay for but then find doesn’t exist.  Or it may be a genuine holiday but with a ‘catch’ e.g.  You receive an email or letter telling you that you’ve won a holiday and to get it you just have to attend at a hotel for a presentation.  You go to the hotel and everything seems fine and you accept the holiday but then find out that there are mandatory extras you have to pay for such as travel or insurance and wish you hadn’t accepted it.

8.     Telemarketing Fraud

Telemarketing fraud is where the scammer makes cold calls.  The scammer will convince the victim to buy goods or services but once they’ve got the credit card details and identity information – they can then make authorised purchases or sell the information to other scammers.

9.     Fake Loan Scam

You can find advertisements in local papers offering fast money loans without formal credit checks. Typically, you call up a free phone number and are then told that your loan is agreed but you need to pay insurance costs via a money transfer. Once you've paid the fee, you never hear from the company again. This scam also often starts as email spam messages.

10.            Investment-Related Scams

 “Ponzi” Schemes

“Ponzi” schemes promise high financial returns or dividends not available through traditional investments. Instead of investing the funds of victims, however, the con artist pays “dividends” to initial investors using the funds of subsequent investors. The scheme generally falls apart when the operator flees with all of the proceeds or when a sufficient number of new investors cannot be found to allow the continued payment of “dividends.”

Pyramid Schemes

As in Ponzi schemes, the money collected from newer victims of pyramid schemes is paid to earlier victims to provide a veneer of legitimacy. In pyramid schemes, however, the victims themselves are induced to recruit further victims through the payment of recruitment commissions.

Market Manipulation (“Pump and Dump”) Fraud

This scheme—commonly referred to as a “pump and dump”—creates artificial buying pressure for a targeted stock, usually a low volume stock largely controlled by the scammers. This artificially-increased trading volume has the effect of pushing up the price of the targeted stock (i.e., the “pump”), which is rapidly sold off into the inflated market by the scammers (i.e., the “dump”). This results in illicit gains for the perpetrators and losses for innocent third-party investors.

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Click here to listen to Don't Lose Your Holiday to a Scammer podcast

Holiday booking fraud is where you pay for a holiday, flight or accommodation that doesn’t exist.  You’ve been scammed.

 

Scammers  con unsuspecting travellers and holidaymakers out of millions of pounds each year or leave them stranded with nowhere to stay. The scams are usually through fake websites, sometimes by phone and often started by email.

The most common types of this fraud are:

1.       Holiday bookings. The scammers create fake websites that look like reputable companies, but they take your money. It may be weeks or months before you realise there is no holiday.

2.        Holiday accommodation without travel.  It may only be when you travel to the holiday location that you find it doesn’t exist.  

3.       Airline Tickets. Scammers take your booking and my even send you what looks like a genuine ticket but when you arrive at the airport you’ll find it’s all fake.

4.       Special Events. When a high profile event is taking place that will attract people from around the world – such as the Olympics, or World Championships or the Football World Cup then lots of people look for tickets for the events and accommodation, flights etc. The scammers set up websites that seem genuine but again are completely fake and the customer just loses a lot of money and the chance to attend the event.  

5.       Timeshares. These were hugely popular in the 80s but these scams still happen today. The scammers use high pressure sales techniques to get you to sign up and often there are free invites to events designed to trap you into buying. Once paid for there’s little you can do to get out of the contract and Timeshares are notoriously difficult to sell.

Tips on How to Avoid Being Scammed

Finding the Holiday/ Travel Offer

One common approach is for scammers to duplicate part of a genuine travel website and copy the photos etc. but use it to get your confidential information. Sometimes they create a website with a very similar domain name to a genuine travel site. E.g. Tomascook.com  instead of Thomascook.com .

It’s worth spending time to research the best company to buy from to get your ideal holiday.  There are numerous websites that give reviews of businesses and you can learn a great deal from these about the service provided. But beware that some reviews may be untrue.

When entering your personal or payment details online, make sure the site you are booking on is secure i.e. it will have a padlock symbol in the address bar and address beginning https

Payment

Where possible, book with a credit card as in the event of a scam, you may be able to claim back through your credit card supplier.

 You should never pay by bank transfer as you won’t have any way to get the money back if things go wrong.  

Never use a Money Transfer Agent such as Western Union or Moneygram – as these are like giving away cash. Untraceable and hence cannot be refunded.

 Check terms and conditions to confirm exactly what you are buying and don’t be afraid to ask questions. A legitimate company will always be able to answer your queries.

You can check the ABTA travel website for further information on holiday fraud.

 http://abta.com/tips-and-latest/abta-campaigns/avoiding-holiday-booking-fraud

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