Saturday 6 February 2016

A grubby, cynical scam

Changing the subject for once, just recently, being something of an aviation nerd, I purchased online a commemorative collectors coin, not entirely dissimilar to the one pictured. The one I purchased was from The Westminster Collection.

Having ordered the item, they have since sent unsolicited "free gifts", later followed by a demand for £45. There is no actual obligation to pay as far as I'm aware, but they use "ah gotcha" terms and conditions, largely gambling that their main demographic plays by the rules and will simply pay up.

While I am not wholly convinced this practice is yet illegal, it is most certainly unethical. A quick look around the web confirms this is a long standing practice that generates many complaints on consumer websites.

Having spotted that the Royal Air Forces Association was offering the above product, I wrote to them offering them a chance to condemn this practice before blogging about it. But then it occurs to me that I can't be the first person to complain to RAFA and there is no possible way they could be ignorant of it.

Moreover, in all likelihood, elderly RAF veterans will likely be affected by this scam of theirs. I feel their association with them marks a conflict of interest, and indeed, such aggressive sales practices tarnish all modern charities.

It has, however, been brought to my attention that they are not affiliated with The Westminster Collection, and in fact use London Mint Office (LMO). However, The London Mint Office is a wholly private direct marketing company and has absolutely nothing to do with The Royal Mint, yet portray themselves as official. As it happens they evidently engage in exactly the same scam as the Westminster Collection as even a cursory investigation reveals.

Moreover, veterans charity, Help For Heroes, are also in business with LMO, which is genuinely surprising since the amount that actually goes to them on the basis of their grossly overpriced products is apparently just £1. In the Daily Express they were advertising The 2010 Lone Soldier coin, "yours for just £1 + P&P" and the £1 goes to the Help For Heroes charity. In the small print it says "if your application is successful ... further coins in the series "Great British Heroes" will be sent at the regular price of £29.95 + P&P for an unspecified number of months".

You won't be surprised to learn that the advertised public address for both of these companies are seemingly bogus. This is evidently a long standing scam, and it would appear it results in referrals to debt collection agencies. The authorities are, unsurprisingly, not in the least bit inclined to lift a finger. We all know how that goes.

As much as I'm sure RAFA are aware of this problem, I am also suspicious of Help For Heroes, and I strongly recommend that you support neither charity and find more deserving veterans charities, preferably local ones.

In this, you might be thinking "how gullible do you have to be?" - but actually, people are in the habit of buying online with confidence because this doesn't normally happen, so they wouldn't look in detail at the fine print - and would expect a prestigious company with a grandiose name to operate with a degree of integrity.

The marketing style is deliberately aimed at pensioners which is their main demographic, and the marketing ploy is based on pure cynicism. Let's call it what it is. Fraud. I would suggest to readers that they tweet this post and complain to said charities. They are exploiting veterans as well as their customers. This must stop.

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