Thursday, 6 December 2012

Entrepreneurs, con-men, and thieves

Three different categories of activity, one good and two bad; and most of us think that we know the difference between them.  But the lines can sometimes be a little “fuzzy” to say the least.

It was a point which came to mind when I saw the television footage last week of the raid by the Information Commissioner’s office on a house from which individuals had been sending those annoying text messages telling us that we may be owed a certain amount of money for having been mis-sold PPI.  It was an interesting counterpoint to a story, carried I think by the Sunday Times, a couple of weeks ago about the firms which actually claim the PPI on behalf of people.
That story talked about the 'entrepreneurs' who have established companies to process claims.  They’ve seen a gap in the market, moved in, and made substantial fortunes as a result.
But by doing what, precisely?  Filling in forms which people could just as easily fill in themselves – and taking 10% of the proceeds for so doing?  I’m sure that they’d describe it as providing a service for people who, for whatever reason, are unable or unwilling to do the job themselves. 

There’s nothing wrong with that per se.  Making a profit by providing a service is a perfectly normal business activity.  It might, though, sit more comfortably with a lot of us if they actually told their customers how easy the job really is.  Whatever, it seems that in total these companies have managed to clean up around £1 billion from the victims of the sold PPI insurance. It may sound a little dodgy to take that much money for doing so little, but if it starts and ends there, it is perfectly legal and it’s up to individuals to say no rather than fall for the marketing ploy.  But it’s the marketing of these services which starts to raise some questions about boundaries.
Apparently the companies who send us those annoying text messages are only middlemen.  However, it does appear that the legitimate companies gain access to potential ‘customers’ by purchasing names and addresses from those middlemen, so the ‘entrepreneurs’ are only contacting those who’ve already been hooked.  Whether that still leaves them as entirely legitimate entrepreneurs is a matter of opinion – do they really have no responsibility for any illegality committed before they become involved, such as the way in which their contact lists are obtained?
According to the news reports these text messages say that you ‘may’ be owed a certain amount of money – I’m sure I’m not the only one to have received a message which was far more definitive than that.  Only a week ago I had one telling me that I am owed £3350 from a mis-sold PPI policy.  Since I’ve never been sold, let alone mis-sold, PPI, the precision with which they can tell me how much I’m owed is remarkable.  From press reports I know that the figure quoted is actually based on an average of the sums recovered for a vast number of people – but that isn’t what the message said.  It very explicitly told me that I am owed £3350.  It's a con. 
About a month ago I also had a message telling me that the sender had been trying to contact me about ‘my accident’ to help me claim compensation – and it’s not the first one of those I’ve had either.  (Let me hasten to reassure both my readers that I have had no accident and remain in apparently good health.) A little bit of research on the telephone numbers used for these two messages suggests – although it does not conclusively prove – that it’s the same people behind both.
Then we have those nice Asian people from the “Windows support department” telephoning me to offer me assistance to resolve the ‘problems’ which my computer has, they claim, reported to them (although their lack of ability to explain how my computer has reported these ‘problems’ rapidly becomes apparent when they are challenged).
Perhaps in India these people work in what looks like a respectable and successful call centre, established by local entrepreneurs.  To me they just look like crooks.
I don’t wish to denigrate successful entrepreneurialism; it’s key to our economic success.  We should be careful though about according the accolade to any and every company which makes large profits.  Successful and acceptable entrepreneurialism depends on more than that.  Companies based on activities which are dubious or in some cases downright illegal, even if not performed directly by the companies themselves, have no place in a successful entrepreneurial market.


Cibwr said...

Ah those windows scammers :-) they tell me that my computer has reported that my Windows XP operating system has been compromised by viruses and that they can help me fix it, which is interesting as I don't have Windows on any of my computers, linux all the way here. Still its fun winding them up though many more are taken in by their scam.

G Horton-Jones said...


It is another Savile moment.

It does not take very long before people smell a rat but it seems impossible to find any organisation who will do anything about it and regretably that includes the Police

My wifes Aunt had a traffic fine for an offence committed in Bedford. The usual thing pay up or go to court. She did not have a clue what to do and she would have paid the fine. The car had never been outside Wales but someone in Bedford had fabricated false number plates. As luck would have it her neighbours son was Police Liason Officer with the DVLA and the matter was resolved

Surely as all communication uses BT facilities in the chain, it is their responsibility to secure the closure of these activities
As also there is a need for the Royal Mail to drive out junk mail I quote one person paying £30 for a piece of coal again another Bedford based scam