Portsmouth pensioner Fred Bullivant was alarmed and confused when he received an unexpected call claiming that his annual nuisance call membership service was about to expire.
The 85-year-old widower was recently diagnosed with early onset dementia, so the last thing he needed was to be bombarded with annoying calls from a privacy firm insisting they were about to take £149.99 from his bank account.
Warning bells started to ring when his daughter Helen discovered he was ironically being called almost on a daily basis, about a service he’d never signed up to claiming to eliminate unwanted junk phone calls.
Helen said she routinely visits his Eastney home once a week to do his essential shopping and they’ve an arrangement to alert her to cold callers so he’s not prey to rogue traders.
She said: ‘Dad was a toolmaker in the dockyard for almost 40 years and although his memory is not as good as it was he’s still got all his marbles.
‘He started getting calls and letters from a Bournemouth-based company called Privacy Protect (UK) Ltd, (not to be confused with firms of a similar name).
‘On checking the website he found it claimed to protect people from unwanted phone calls, overseas sales calls, junk mail and much more, by intercepting and eliminating the source of the nuisance.
‘He didn’t know what to make of it. The firm had the name of his bank, the Halifax, but they kept annoying and pestering him for the account number and sort code so they could take the money from his account.
‘He’s always been a methodical man, so when he told me about it we sat down together and went through all his online bank statements, receipts, and invoices going back three years or so just to make sure he hadn’t made a mistake.
‘We couldn’t find any trace of an order with Privacy Protect, and began to wonder if the whole thing was a scam.
‘I mentioned it to one of my brothers who was all for telling dad just to ignore the calls and inform the bank to ensure that any demands for payment from the company were blocked.
‘It seemed like sound sense, and we put the matter behind us until dad received a letter saying his account was in the process of being debited with the £149.99.
‘He checked with the bank and was re-assured to find this wasn’t the case.
‘Dad was beginning to show signs of distress, but in the meantime, a friend told us about Streetwise and suggested we got in touch to see if you could get to the bottom of the privacy firm’s demands and get it sorted.’
When we started probing Privacy Protect (UK) Ltd, we were impressed by its claim to be a nationally recognised data controller dedicated to empowering consumers to protect their privacy.
It claimed they were registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office, number ZA239788, and its primary function was to ensure customers’ data was secure and processed lawfully.
In view of Fred Bullivant’s experience it quickly found its way into our distinctly dodgy file as it appeared not all it was cracked up to be.
And so it turned out.
We first headed off to Companies House records, where a search quickly disclosed the company had only been in existence since 2017 and was dormant until March 2018.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) registers all data controllers, and they told us the firm had had only registered with them for a year, but as there was no renewal payment its registration had lapsed.
Faced with a company that had no legal powers and purported to take up customer complaints about data protection violations with the ICO, whilst remaining unregistered, we thought it high time to contact company boss, Lloyd Smith for an explanation.
We asked why the website was still displaying a lapsed ICO registration, proof he had an agreement with Fred to help himself to his bank account, and where he’d obtained his bank details from in the first place.
It didn’t come as a surprise when Mr Smith remained shtum.
Following further background checks we unearthed a connection with another similar Bournemouth-based business Do Not Call (UK) Ltd.
Cumulative complaints about this firm went back a year earlier. Smith, together with associate director Luke Ashbee, were accused of making dodgy high pressure sales calls, paradoxically selling gadgets to plug into the phone line designed to block high pressure sales calls. True to form this company was also not registered with the ICO.
A copycat dormant company formation in 2015, Do Not Call (UK) Ltd ended up with the company failing to file accounts and folding last November with debts estimated by liquidators at £125,000.
Streetwise got back to a relieved Helen and her dad Fred to confirm their suspicion the calls and letters could safely be ignored. We recommended they report the incident to the national fraud centre Action Fraud.
A greatly relieved Fred told us the calls had stopped within a day or so of the pair getting in touch with Streetwise, but their relief was tinged with anger about how easy it appeared to be for the unscrupulous to confuse and scam elderly people out of their money.
‘We just can’t thank you enough,’ Helen said. ‘Dad admitted he was having sleepless nights and was seriously thinking about moving his bank account from the Halifax after almost 30 years of trouble free banking with them.
‘You got to the bottom of it in days what had been troubling us for weeks.’
Have you got a problem or do you need advice about a consumer issue?
Richard Thomson has worked for leading UK and European companies as a market research analyst, and in consumer education and protection with trading standards.
E-mail him with your question at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Streetwise, 1000 Lakeside, Western Road, PO6 3EN. Briefly outline the details, and include your name, address and phone number, and include any reference or order numbers.
Answers to questions are for guidance only, and must not be taken as a complete statement of law. Richard also attends the Gosport Discovery Centre every Tuesday between 9am and 1pm.