Essex: Trading Standards issues warning over sales scams

Sue Bunney, strategic manager at Essex Trading Standards

Sue Bunney, strategic manager at Essex Trading Standards - Credit: Archant

A senior Trading Standards manager in Essex has warned businesses to be more aware of the risk posed by sales scams.

Sue Bunney, strategic manager at Essex County Council’s Trading Standards department, says many firms fail to realise that business-to-business contract rights differ from those which apply to consumer constracts ? a situation which can be exploited by scammers.

For example, she says, that businesses need to be aware that even simply agreeing to an offer over the telephone can result in it becoming subject to a legally binding contract from which the business cannot easily withdraw, as it will not have the same protection as consumers.

With scammers operating by phone, email, text, fax, mail or even on a person-to-person basis, businesses needed to be extra cautious, she warns.

“There are many types of business scams but one of the most common is the cold calling of businesses offering them an amazing deal to sign up to some sort of advertising and promotion of their business in a directory of some sort,” she said.

“Small businesses are especially vulnerable to this type of scam and find themselves being tricked into thinking they are paying a small one off fee for an entry in a directory only then to find they have actually entered a legally binding contract over a long period of time that results in them having many hundreds or even thousands of pounds taken from their bank accounts.

“We advise businesses never to agree to any offer over the phone or via any other method, even if the caller is telling you the offer has to be taken up there and then.

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“Always ask to be sent information about the offer and make it clear to the seller that you are not prepared to agree to anything before you have had a chance to read and understand exactly what is on offer and have had chance to look at the full terms and conditions of the contract.”

She added: “Trading Standards has been contacted by businesses that have found themselves liable to pay bills running into thousands of pounds after buying what they thought was just one advert.

“For example a business in Essex was recently contacted by phone by a company stating they could help him with his advertising. The company asked if the business was interested and the owner said yes.

“He was sent information by the company but, because he was in the middle of some work and did not read through the terms and conditions, he signed up to the deal and only when it was too late did he realise he had agreed to a contract in which he was being charged regular payments which were increasing in price at an alarming rate and also realised the advertising was not suitable for his business.

“He called us for help and we will of course do what we can to advise and assist, but we are appealing to businesses to be alert and avoid becoming victims in the first place.”