Absolute Marketing: Police probe hotel discount firm after owner vanishes
A police investigation is under way after a Belfast marketing company closed and its owner disappeared with thousands of pounds of customers' money outstanding.
Absolute Marketing Limited operated discounted hotel deals across Britain and Ireland through €200 (£160) annual membership schemes, but members have been left with dead telephone lines and no trace of staff since Monday.
Scores of clients say hundreds of pounds were taken from their bank accounts without permission by Absolute Marketing Limited, using the name Absolute Hotels. Others who had costly annual subscriptions, which it was claimed would entitle them to discounted hotel breaks, fear their money has also been lost.
Earlier this week Trading Standards launched an investigation following complaints.
And last night police said they were investigating.
"Police are aware of reports relating to this company," a PSNI spokeswoman said.
"Officers are currently making a number of inquiries and are liaising with colleagues from Trading Standards."
Absolute Marketing operated out of office buildings on the Ormeau Road in south Belfast.
They were vacant yesterday, with a sign in the window saying the company left the premises in 2013.
A neighbouring trader told the Belfast Telegraph he had been inundated with people in recent weeks asking if he had any information regarding the whereabouts of Absolute Marketing's owners.
The property's landlord is said to be owed £12,000 by the company.
The director and proprietor of the firm is listed online as Gareth Campbell, who is aged in his mid-40s.
Another Belfast trading address for Mr Campbell was also published. However, a woman who lives at the property denied ever having heard of him.
Phone lines for the business are dead.
It is not yet known exactly how many people have had unauthorised transactions made on their bank accounts and credit cards for amounts between nearly £200 and £300.
Staff at a number of hotels across Northern Ireland have been left "shocked and stunned" by the apparent "disappearance" of Mr Campbell, who many described as "a very pleasant man" and a "gentleman".
A spokesman for Hilton Worldwide confirmed it had a "long-standing relationship" with Absolute Marketing and said that currently it was "making every effort to contact the company".
"We will honour any existing accommodation bookings already confirmed by Absolute Marketing Limited in our Hilton reservation systems."
He added: "Whilst we continue with our investigations, we will also honour any incentives to membership card benefits holders in our food and beverage outlets."
However, it said it was not able to honour any vouchers not already confirmed with the Hilton.
Have you been affected by the closure of Absolute Marketing? Tell us your story by calling 9026 4420.
Story so far
The Absolute Marketing website claimed it could get people discounts at leading resort hotels including Lough Erne in Fermanagh, and Hilton's hotels in Belfast and Templepatrick. Some members had money taken from their accounts by Absolute Hotels which appears to be linked to the firm as internet searches bring surfers back to the Absolute Marketing website.
'I called but the line was dead'... customers' stories
David Manly: "I stayed in the Hilton in March and when I returned home to Dublin a few days later I got a call from Absolute Marketing telling me I could get much cheaper rooms and meals if I joined their scheme for a year's subscription of €200. They said they had an agreement with the company so I phoned them and all their lines were dead and I found it was the same for everywhere, for all the hotels involved. It's pretty bad for the whole tourism sector in Northern Ireland and the tourism people should be jumping up and down, and so should the Hilton."
John McShane, Crumlin: "They took £195 from my credit card two months ago and also from my friend who was also a member. Despite many, many phone calls and empty promises to resolve this I had to change my credit card to ensure no more withdrawals and my friend had to go to their offices to get the money refunded onto our cards."
Rose, Monaghan: "Two charges of €299 each appeared on the credit card. When I tried to contact them their phones just rang out, which worried me. However, when I tried calling again the next day a voice message had been set up, explaining that they were just closed for bank holiday. This initially made me feel better, but since then they removed this voice message and all the phone numbers just ring out."
Kenneth Fisher, Fermanagh: "They said they were no longer honouring the vouchers. I rang the number but the phone line was dead. I received my bank statement yesterday and have noticed a strange payment of €299 on my statement, withdrawn on May 15. I intend contacting Trading Standards about this tomorrow."
John Miller, Belfast: "I have been a customer of Absolute Marketing for a few years, as are some of my friends. Two weeks ago I also had €299 removed from my account with no word from the company. On trying to phone them and getting no connection, I then went to the office address to find a notice on the door saying they were no longer there and no forwarding address left. I have now contacted the fraud department of my bank and Trading Standards."