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SMEs fall foul of cold-calling firm

Warning: Rogue online directory on the loose

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Be on your guard for rogue internet firms - that's the warning from Northern Ireland's Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment's Trading Standards Service.

A number of local businesses in Northern Ireland have fallen foul of a cold-calling internet firm which promises internet directory services and website services and fails to come up with the goods.

According to the Trading Standards Service, complaints range from a poor or incomplete service, to allegations of unauthorised withdrawals from credit card accounts, bills, and demands for hundreds of pounds sterling.

ENN's attempts to contact the Glasgow-based Iomart have so far been unsuccessful - in itself one of the complaints levied against it.

ENN did manage to contact Iomart's Lancaster-based support line subsidiary, YouFindUs, where staff said "they were not at liberty to discuss the allegations" and would notify a "supervisor" who had not returned calls at time of publication.

The company in question has been cold-calling local businesses, pushing advertisements for its online directory service, or trying to drum up business for its website design service.

Once the small business agrees to use the services, however, the company has been known to charge more than agreed. According to DETI, other complaints from individuals targeted by this aproach include failing to inform customers that their contract automatically renews, and incorrect information advertised on the website. The authorities said getting the incorrect details altered also proved problematic for the caught-out companies.

"Businesses need to be aware of companies who rely on cold-calling to get business," Ed Cairns, Trading Standards Service, said. "You must ask yourself if you really want the service being offered. If you have never heard of such a service before then do you really need it? If you decide you do want the service you should ensure that you have fully read the terms and conditions before entering into any contract and before giving out your credit card details."

One small businessman was charged a total of £516.24 for an internet directory service he was told would cost him £19.95 per month for a 12 month period. In addition to charging the entire 12 month fee up front, the company also laid on an extra set-up charge of £199.95 for establishing a domain name he had not been told about.

He told ENN that when he tried to contact the company about the extra charges, he found it difficult to do so. When he finally managed to speak to a company representative, he explained his problem, but never heard from them again.

The businessman subsequently contacted his credit card company to prevent any further payments being charged to his card, and managed to recover a small portion of the money. The Citizens Advice Bureau and the Trading Standards Service became involved, but the businessman said he has put the remainder of the cash down as a loss.

However, he was keen to bring the matter to the attention of other small businesses who may fall prey to this kind of sharp practice.

Copyright © 2006, ENN

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