Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below.
J.S. writes: I received an email from UK Corporate Portal requesting details to register our business. I thought the email was connected to Companies House.
However, after I supplied the details, I received an invoice demanding £797 for the first year of a three-year contract.
It said I could not cancel, and now its legal counsel is threatening me with court action, apparently in Germany.
Scam: You would stand a better chance of finding the UK Corporate Portal in Hamburg or Prague (pictured)
UK Corporate Portal sounds official. In fact, it is a scam. It is not even based in the UK, despite its name. You would stand a better chance of finding it in Hamburg or Prague.
Its authentic-looking paperwork tricks firms into signing up to what looks like a free entry in a trade directory. In fact, all customers get is a hugely expensive mention on a website that nobody is ever likely to see. And even this is useless. Your own small business is in the motor trade in North Wales, so I used the UK Corporate Portal website to search for your exact services. It offered no answers.
It was only when I entered your postcode that your firm’s name appeared. In other words, I had to know you were there before this expensive website would tell me you were there.
I even tried the website to search for plumbers in London, Birmingham and Liverpool. You would think that any genuine trade directory would be overflowing with plumbers – but it had none in any of these big cities. I have warned readers about UK Corporate Portal before.
In 2013, it was telling businesses that EU rules meant they had to provide their VAT number so it could update its directory.
Lots of companies returned a signed form with their VAT details, without noticing the small print in the terms and conditions promising to pay for three years of costly advertising on a Hamburg website.
This scam relies on bullying and empty threats of legal action to force victims to pay up. But legally its case is riddled with holes.
The form you originally returned says that only German law applies, yet you are being threatened with court action in the Czech Republic.
The latest demand you received says the German company Tele Verzeichnis Verlag (TVV) was behind the website, but that it fell into insolvency last year, with a debt collector called CC-Factoring inheriting the right to claim any money it was owed. Yet UK Corporate Portal website’s 2020 updates still show TVV as the owner.
The demands and threats you received came from ‘Colin Smith’, described as ‘senior legal counsel’, and ‘Michael Richardson’, who is said to be a ‘litigation executive’.
I asked CC-Factoring to say what legal qualifications the pair hold – assuming they exist in the first place – but it offered no answers.
Authorities in Prague say the debt collection firm is registered to Adrian Wittmer. He is known to me for similar scams, and he issues the debt collection claims from Prague because the Czech Republic has more relaxed rules than Germany and Switzerland, where he has been in trouble before.
Wittmer also failed to reply to repeated invitations to comment.
Do not give Wittmer or his companies a penny. They will not take any action against you in this country. The last thing they want is a court case that would expose them as the tricksters they are.
Barclays breached my data!
K.G. writes: I paid off some of my Barclays mortgage, and three days later I received a message from a former employer, telling me he had received a letter addressed to me at his home and had opened it by mistake.
It was from Barclays, confirming the repayments and giving all my mortgage details. The next day he received a further letter about my mortgage.
I complained to the bank, and it acknowledged my complaint by sending yet another letter to my old employer.
Unanswered question: Barclays has been completely unable to explain why it linked K.G.’s name to a former employer’s home address.
You have never had any connection to your ex-employer’s home address, and you have never given it to Barclays.
But making this series of data leaks even more serious, you are in dispute with your former employer over redundancy pay, leaving you worried as to what other information the bank may have given him about your finances.
I gave Barclays your signed authority to allow the bank to speak to me. Its initial response was to contact you, saying it needed your permission to discuss the matter with me – permission it already held.
This angered you even more, as the bank had failed to deal with your complaint for almost two months, but found time to ask you to confirm again that it would talk to me.
Well, Barclays has now spoken. It has been completely unable to explain why it linked your name to your former employer’s home address.
A spokesperson said: ‘We regret that personal data had been sent to the incorrect address for our customer.’
And you have told me that Barclays has given you a written apology and credited £500 to your account by way of saying sorry.
WE’RE WATCHING YOU
Two fraudsters who operated a massive binary options scam have been ordered to hand back about £450,000 they made from their victims and to pay a fine of £270,000 on top. However, the legal action against them has been taken by the US Securities & Exchange Commission, so British victims will not benefit. No action has been taken in the UK.
Anton Senderov and Lior Babazara were behind LBinary, which posed as an investment company to persuade victims to place bets on short-term changes in the prices of shares and currencies.
Fine: Lior Babazara, left, and Anton Senderov were behind LBinary, which posed as an investment company
I warned against LBinary as long ago as 2015 and revealed that, although it used a variety of addresses, its real location was in Israel, where it had more than a hundred employees and a worldwide call centre. Sales staff lied about their names, location and financial experience to persuade victims to invest.
No action was taken at the time and LBinary was allowed to continue its rip-offs for two more years.
Since then, prosecutors in the US have brought criminal charges against scores of Israelis and their American business associates for binary options frauds.
In December last year, Lee Elbaz, a 38-year-old Israeli woman, was jailed for 22 years and was ordered to repay more than £20million to her victims. Watchdogs in Britain have not brought a single prosecution or claim, and the Financial Conduct Authority allowed one of the biggest binary options scams to appear on its public register of investment firms.
If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned.