Trading Standards Information and Advice: National court ruling boost for local scam campaign

The fight against misleading and scam mail in East Sussex has been given a boost following a national court ruling.

The High Court has recently ruled against several UK senders of misleading letters in a landmark case brought by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).

The Court has indicated it will take enforcement action against Purely Creative Ltd, Strike Lucky Games Ltd, McIntyre & Dodd Marketing Ltd, The Winners Club Ltd, Dodd Marketing Ltd and certain of their directors.

The Court ruled that the companies had broken rules under the Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, for giving a false impression that people had won a prize when all they were being offered was chance to buy a low-value item. Every year, the companies concerned send millions of marketing letters to UK households – many in East Sussex – and use a Ross on Wye return address.

Welcoming the ruling, Councillor Bob Tidy, Lead Member for Community Services at the County Council said: “This judgment vindicates our view and that of the OFT, that it is not acceptable to tell consumers they have won a prize, when in fact they are simply being given the chance to buy something. The Court ruling makes it clear that the companies involved will have to change their ways.

“The ruling will also help to turn the tide of scam mail and give a boost to our local Scamnesty campaign, which runs throughout February. During the campaign, we’re asking people to hand in scam and misleading marketing mail to their local library. The initiative will help our Trading Standards team as it works with other agencies to combat the problem of scam letters.”

The businesses involved in the High Court ruling promote various premium-rate prize draw scratch-cards which are distributed through inserts in magazines and newspapers, as well as direct mailings.

Ways in which the promotions were held by the court to be in breach of the rules included the following:

• creating the impression that the recipient has won a prize, when in substance the consumer is simply being offered the chance to purchase a low value item

• deceiving consumers as to the geographical origin of particular products, or by describing a holiday voucher as a prize, when it would cost the consumer a significant sum actually to go on the holiday

• downplaying the costs to consumers of calling a premium number to find out what they have won.

One of the mailings examined in the case involved a letter from McIntrye & Dodd that said:

‘Before we notify your local newspapers, if you are the recipient of the £25,000 top prize, we need your permission. If you prefer to remain anonymous, we will respect your privacy’ and ‘If you fail to return your claim form, the £25,000 Top Prize will definitely go to someone else”

In fact the letter, sent to around 1.5 million people in 2008, was, for 99.92% of recipients, really only inviting the purchase of a watch, which would cost a responder around £18.00 in premium rate phone charges and P&P. The High Court Judge agreed consumers were likely to have been deceived into thinking they had “won” a significant prize rather than simply paying for a low value watch.

For more general information about the work of Trading Standards please visit www.eastsussex.gov.uk/consumeradvice.