Why Sky TV customers need to be extra-suspicious of cold-callers '“Â and could lose hundreds of poundsÂ Â
Helen Holt's weekly visit to her 85-year-old mum turned out to be in the nick of time when she discovered the pensioner had just revealed her bank details to a cold-calling scammer.
The nursing assistant from Havant settled down to her regular cup of tea and a chat with her mother Beryl, only to learn just 10 minutes before her arrival she'd paid Â£252 to a company called UK TVÂ Care Ltd based in Spain.
Helen probed her Fareham mother's recollection of the call which she was led to believe was from Sky, but on returning home promptly emailedÂ StreetwiseÂ for helpÂ because she had a suspicion the transaction was distinctly dodgy.
Beryl is a Sky TV package customer and the caller initially offered her TV box insurance. Sensing she wasn't interested they said paying Â£45 a month to watch TV was far too much and if she gave them her bank card details they'd arrange to switch her to a cheaper deal.
'˜I couldn't believe just how trusting mum had been disclosing all her bank security information to a complete stranger,' Helen said.
'˜Mum is of the old school and tends to believe anyone who can give her a sob story or promise a good deal.
'˜I've always drummed into her not to give out her bank details to any Tom, Dick, or Harry but the claim to slash her viewing bill by Â£15 a month looked to her like a good deal despite the fact it would have taken her the best part of 17 months to recover her outlay.
'˜Together with my husband David, we've developed a strategy that if she's cold-called at the door or asked to make a payment to anyone over the phone, to call us first so we can look into it for her.
'˜When I told my husband David about it he immediately suggested contactingÂ The NewsÂ consumer department to check whether it was a scam and alert other readers.'
StreetwiseÂ received David's call later that evening. We agreed it was a turn-off and immediately swung into action and investigated.
First we gave him the Barclays 24/7 number to call to put a block on the transaction and cancel Beryl's card.
We then called the number that came up in Beryl's phone and found she'd been called by a company called UK TV Care Ltd.
We were already aware that millions of Sky customers had their accounts hacked in 2016. Internet service providers who like Sky, outsourced part of their service to Yahoo had unwittingly exposed personal customer data to fraudsters.
Scammers then went on the rampage selling bogus maintenance and Sky box warranty insurance.
The cold calls were very convincing and appeared authentic because the rogues had the victim's account details and addresses.
StreetwiseÂ has known about the nefarious activities of UK TV Care Ltd and sister company Sky Protect Ltd for more than two years.
Nationwide consumer complaints began to emerge that Sky subscribers were being routinely targeted by these firms into taking out TV satellite equipment insurance, offered false service options, or told their viewing cards had expired.
What disturbed us on receiving Helen's complaint was the fact that both firms were still in business leaving people like her mum exposed to the ongoing fraud.
On investigating further it was easy to see why people were being taken in.
UK TV Care Ltd had been brazenly passing itself off as the genuine Sky firm of the same name.
We discovered both the Spanish based firms still had a registered office address in north London, but the UK premises was just a company formation agent.
We checked with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) which licenses insurance products. They confirmed that neither was licensed which means they were breaking the law.
Although the FCA had put out an official warning on its website that consumers should be '˜especially wary' of dealing with the firms, we were disappointed to learn no regulatory action has been taken.
We invited both companies to comment following our investigation into their activities but they failed to respond.
Despite the lack of official action, we learned Sky had commendably moved in to fill the vacuum and protect consumers.
It went to court and obtained an order to compel the crooked Sky Protect Ltd to change its name to the far less attractive 09984293 Ltd, which was then promptly struck off as a registered UK company by Companies House officials.
With one of the bent companies now well out of the frame, that only left UK TV Care Ltd '“ the firm that had originally contacted Helen's mum.
StreetwiseÂ was pleased to learn their days were also numbered.
Despite being registered in Spain enabling it to continue to trade in the UK, Companies House regulators struck the final blow for consumers when they pulled the plug on UK TV Care Ltd just two weeks ago on October 9.
We informed Helen of the final demise of both the bent firms who had very nearly got away with ripping her elderly mother off.
However, we speculated that Sky's hacked customer database was probably available on the dark web. We warned it was a sure-fire bet it wouldn't be long before the cold-calling fraud scam to trick people into disclosing their card details re-emerged.
Helen said: '˜I really can't thank you enough for looking into this scam for us and warning other readers.
'˜Following making contact with Barclays they immediately cancelled the card so mum didn't lose any of her money.
'˜She's now given us her replacement card and we've arranged that she calls us before disclosing the details to a third party.'