Northern Ireland consumers have been warned about an elaborate scam artist who has been targeting local newspapers.
Trading Standards says it had received reports of an alleged ‘mail order specialist’ fraudster who recently advertised electrical goods at drastically discounted rates.
And it said that the bogus trader appears to be using the names of genuine limited companies to place the advertisements without their knowledge.
Belfast man Patrick Graham (42) became a victim of the scam after he responded to an authentic-looking ad for ‘The Gadget Company’ that appeared in the Irish News.
Referring to themselves as ‘mail order specialists’ and offering ‘top brands at low prices’, the father-of-five placed an order with what he thought was a legitimate organisation.
But six weeks later — and now unable to contact the seller — he still hasn’t received the pressure washer which set him back £120.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Graham said he wanted to help others avoid making similar costly mistakes.
“I should have known it was too good to be true,” he said.
“Pressure washers retail at around £300, so when I saw one priced at £119.12 I thought I was getting a real bargain.”
Mr Graham, a delivery driver, was asked by the con artist to transfer money from his bank to an account supplied by the seller and told to call back once the money had been transferred.
“I’ve tried to call him many times and I’ve sent various emails and faxes,” Mr Graham said.
“When I eventually got through he told me he was expecting a delivery, but that I could get a cheque refund by calling his accountant. Of course, I haven’t been able to get through on that number either.”
The Belfast Telegraph carried out its own investigation and — after trying the phone number for five hours — finally spoke to someone who identified himself as Alfred Marshall of The Gadget Company, which he said had been in business for 15 years.
We ordered a Canon Digital Camera (priced at £71.14) and an Apple ipod (at £119.12) and after he “checked the stock” we were given different bank details, under another name different to that which was given to Mr Graham — and asked to lodge the money.
He said that it wouldn’t be possible to pay by credit card because “we don’t have a machine to process”.
And he added: “We normally sell to trade shops and they buy in bulk and pay by cheque. It’s only because of the recession that we’re selling single products.”
A Trading Standards Service spokeswoman said the advertisement had appeared in a “number of newspapers throughout Northern Ireland”.
“Consumers have complained that after being asked to pay money directly into accounts at well known banks they have not received the items they ordered,” she said.
“The complaints also indicate the trader is using the names of genuine limited companies — which appear not to be connected with the scam.”
When the Belfast Telegraph contacted an e-commerce website called The Gadget Company in Hampshire to make inquiries, advertising manager Mandy Dixon said she was shocked.
“We’re not doing any advertising at the moment and definitely not in any Northern Ireland newspapers,” she said.
Irish News advertising manager Valerie Gourley said the paper reacted immediately to remove the suspect advert — which only appeared once.
“We accepted the advertisement from The Gadget Company in good faith and it was published on the 31st of March 2009,” she said.
“As soon as we were alerted to a problem by a reader, we immediately pulled the advertisement and cancelled the remaining bookings.”
A police spokeswoman said they had received a report of a scam and said that an investigation was under way.
“The consumer believes this company was bogus,” she said.
“There are numerous types of frauds and scams being practised by fraudsters and they come in many guises.
“If any member of the public thinks they have been the subject of any type of fraud they should contact police.”