Spot the fraudsters targeting your TV
Barbara Sanderson, a 73-year-old retired sales assistant from Surrey, subscribed to Sky three years ago. She says: "I love the TV programmes, but don't really understand all the technology. It took me a long time just to get used to the remote control."
So Barbara was worried and confused when she received a telephone call from Sky six months into her subscription, informing her she needed a digital upgrade for which she would need to make a small payment on her credit card.
"They used a lot of technical jargon, and then they asked for my credit card details," she says. As Barbara doesn't like giving out her details over the phone, she told them to call back. Meanwhile, her son rang Sky customer services.
"They told him that it wasn't Sky at all. It was a scam. I was very worried; my son had to stay with me for two nights in case they rang again. But in the end they never called back."
In fact, the con had started long before the call that had so worried Barbara. The fraudsters had rung two weeks earlier claiming to be doing a survey, at which point they asked whether she had a Sky subscription.
After a fortnight, they knew they could ring back and there would be a good chance she wouldn't connect it with the original call. In fact, she says: "It had slipped my mind completely, and I only remembered about it when my son asked me if I'd had a call like that."
How to spot the scammers
There are a few variations on the scam. Sometimes the criminals will call offering an upgrade. Sometimes they will call to "check you are happy with the service" and at the same time will try to "check the credit card details we hold on file".
Sometimes they will call and say you are about to be disconnected unless you pay a small fee. But all they are after is your credit card details, which they will use to run up debts on your card.
If you receive any of these types of calls, it's worth bearing in mind that Sky never makes calls asking for credit card details.
Billing matters are handled in writing, as are any subscription changes. This means that if you receive an approach like this, it will always be a scam.
Neil Harrison, an officer at Hartlepool Council Trading Standards, has dealt with one victim of this scam. "Our advice is to avoid dealing with cold callers, whether at your front door or over the telephone," he says.
"Unless you are 100% certain that you are dealing with a genuine company, we would advise that you do not give any personal information – especially bank details – as clearly there's a risk that this could be used in fraudulent activity."
This particular scam surfaced just over three years ago and has been doing the rounds ever since. More recently, it has been joined by another type of Sky scam which is not always strictly illegal, but is certainly misleading.
John Brady, a 37-year-old consultant from Reading received a call two months ago from someone claiming to be from Sky. "They told me my Sky cover was coming to an end and that I would need to renew it," he says.
But John wasn't paying for anything called ‘Sky cover' so he asked more questions. "It turned out they had nothing to do with Sky. They were just trying to sell me a warranty."
In the case of this sort of scam, the victim may be approached by either phone or letter. Sometimes it will be timed to coincide with your initial guarantee running out.
In other instances, contact is more random, and these letters are sent regardless of whether the addressee even has a Sky TV subscription.
There are a number of firms that have been found to be using this sales technique to sell warranties, which have been unpopular with customers but have not broken the law in the strictest sense.
There are others, however, that have gone further, and strayed into the kind of territory that has seen the business shut down.
One, SPS, which traded as Satellite Services, was found to have misled customers, and failed to give a business address or provide the legal cooling-off period, usually seven working days from the day the order was made.
It was placed in insolvency by a number of organisations, including the regulator, the Financial Services Authority.
So if you're unsure about a phone call, you should ask the person calling for a number to call them back on. If they refuse, this should raise warning flags.
Generally speaking, insolvency is to businesses what bankruptcy is to individuals. A company is insolvent if the value of its assets is less than the amount of its liabilities, or it is unable to pay its liabilities (loan payments) as they fall due. It’s an offence for an insolvent company to keep trading, so the main options available to an insolvent company are: voluntary liquidation, compulsory liquidation, administration or a company voluntary arrangement.
Used by the holder to buy goods and services, credit cards also have a monthly or annual spending limit, which may be raised or lowered depending on the creditworthiness of the cardholder. But unlike charge cards, borrowers aren’t forced to pay the balance off in full every month and, as long as they make a stated minimum payment, can carry a balance from one month to the next, generating compound interest. As the issuing company is effectively giving you a short-term loan, most credit cards have variable and relatively high interest rates. Allowing the interest to compound for too long may result in dire financial straits.
The period of time you’re allowed, after signing an agreement, to cancel it without incurring a financial penalty. Financial products including banking, credit, insurance, personal pensions and investments are subject to a 14-day cooling-off period (this is 30 days in the case of life insurance and personal pensions). The insurer or broker must refund any money paid by you within 30 days, although it has the right to deduct a reasonable admin charge, and a sum proportionate to the number of days’ cover you had. If you have any related credit agreements, these will also be cancelled.