Wolves in Hyenas’ Clothing

Have you ever been scammed or conned?  It’s really quite astonishing how careful one has to be throughout life, because there is always someone out there whose idea of a day’s work is the moral and ethical equivalent of bashing someone on the head with a cosh.

Whilst I might almost approve of a scheme which defrauds millions of people of a penny each – no one really suffers – or can even almost admire a really well thought out scheme, I have nothing but contempt for the appallingly badly spelled rubbish which some idiots throw at one’s email address from time to time.  You’ve probably seen that junk – English is clearly their 43rd language, and if they really think anyone is going to fall for such badly constructed trash then they have an unlimited amount of optimism…

Which is why, when I see the hyena-like mugging of someone who has kindly pointed out, on an online article accepting comments, that the writer made a typo, I get really quite cross. The inevitability of the howling, yowling moaning about ‘why aren’t you concentrating on the article content’ and ‘stop having a go at him/her’ is the saddest factor.  It’s all very well coming out with that dippy ‘let’s be nice to everybody’ rant, but given that scammers and conners frequently can’t even spell their own names, a grammatically incorrect or poorly spelled article comes across as unprofessional – and could even indicate a rather more sinister intent…

I had an interesting scam letter this week.  One of the better ones, it had only a couple of typos, but they were significant.  It is known as the ‘Commercial Register’ scam, and if you run any kind of business, in the UK or abroad, you could be targeted by it.  An astonishingly similar scam is the World Company Register, and the Welsh Commercial Register is also run by the same company – Direct Publisher S.L.U

Why is it clever?  Because whoever thought it out has had a nice, official looking form and letter printed, and the psychology behind it is spot-on.  But it’s very, very naughty.

First the letter.  Official looking header image with a coat of arms and ‘Commercial Register’ could easily catch out an admin newbie, or an over-stressed small business owner.  It states that ‘your company’s details need to be updated by the above referenced date.  Please revise and approve your company’s details promptly’.  It then goes on a bit more, and those who scrutinise documents will spot a comma where an inverted comma was meant to be.  That sort of slip is highly unlikely to appear in a REAL official document.  The letter does not make itself properly clear, and is ambiguous as to its actual intent.

The accompanying form also looks professional, until one gets down to the small print (ALWAYS read the small print!) and the word ‘receives’ is used where ‘reserves’ would have been grammatically correct.  If the whole thing is scrutinised carefully, it can be seen that it is an order form, which, if signed and returned (to a freepost address in FRANCE!) apparently enters you into a legally binding contract for advertising for a three-year period, at a cost of £863 per year!  Pretty staggering price for a 600 x 350 pixel rectangle on a dodgy website.  So if someone in the office didn’t look too carefully, or had returned the form suitably amended because they had closed down their business, they would potentially be liable for a very large bill.  I say potentially, because the legality of a fraudulent document is questionable, and the people behind Direct Publisher S.L.U are most unlikely to want their naughty practice exposed in court.  But think of the stress that sort of demand could put someone under – particularly if they are new to business, or are already having financial difficulties.

Because Direct Publisher S.L.U are registered in Madrid, Spain, they will be getting around UK laws regarding advertising.  It will also be harder to go and knock on their door to ask them what they think they’re about.  But when I reported it to Action Fraud (the UK’s specialist fraud team run by the police) I found a British address, on the envelope the whole caboodle came in, with a Bristol postcode.  They did tell me that many fraudsters use a real postcode so that anyone checking up initially will think they are dealing with a legitimate company.  A look at Atlas Street does not reveal anything very likely – it’s mostly the back of warehouses.  There is an International Mail Handling company nearby – but that is on Feeder Road, not Atlas Street.

My letter concerned a business that was wound up a couple of years ago, but which still had an extant website – I had difficulty getting that offline.  The details that were printed on the form were just ripped from the website.  They hadn’t been able to get an email address because the website utilised an online form for potential customers to fill in – quite a useful device if you don’t want half a ton of spam everyday.  Needless to say, they aren’t getting any money from me – and let’s make sure they don’t get any from anyone else.

Be very wary of any communication from Direct Publisher S.L.U., the Commercial Register, or anything that purports to have a return address of 1 Atlas Street, Bristol, BS2 0FP.  Don’t get tricked into buying their ruinously expensive ‘advertising’!  And spellcheck your work, business cards, and all documentation – don’t worry about the hyenas, it’s the wolves you have to watch…


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