Archive for September 2013
ELDERLY people are being warned not to feel pressurised into giving their credit or debit card details to cold callers following a series of complaints about a company that attempts to sell them boiler insurance products they don’t need.
The company, Heat Plan Utilities, based in Surrey, calls elderly people to tell them that their boilers are out of warranty and typically tells them they need to buy ‘Silver Plus’ cover costing £119.99.
They are then told that they need to buy the product there and then, and are pressurised into giving their credit or debit card details using ‘hard sell’ techniques.
Pina Morrish, an 88-year-old widow from Cardiff, was recently contacted by the company. She said: “They called me one afternoon and frightened me into thinking I needed boiler cover.
“The man I spoke to seemed very nice and was well-spoken, but he was very insistent that I bought the cover there and then, and persuaded me to give him my debit card details.”
Mrs Morrish, who is originally from Italy and settled in Britain after marrying a Welsh soldier in 1947, soon realised something wasn’t right and phoned her daughter, retired deputy headteacher Christine De Souza, who immediately contacted her mother’s bank to stop the payment and cancel her card.
Mrs De Souza, 59, who assists her mother with financial matters, said: “I discussed the possibility of getting boiler cover with my mother some time ago, but since she has it serviced on a regular basis, we agreed it wasn’t necessary.
“My mother is still very independent for her age and makes her own decisions. It seemed very clear to me that this caller was using ‘hard sell’ techniques, because she is not easily manipulated, and was aware her boiler was in good working order following the recent service.”
The following morning, Mrs De Souza phoned Heat Plan Utilities to try and establish exactly what has happened.
She asked how exactly they had obtained her mother’s number, and was told that they got it through a survey she had completed. Mrs De Souza said it was highly unlikely her mother had filled out a survey, and was told: “If she can give card details, I’m sure she can complete a survey.”
Mrs De Souza replied that she was sure she knew her own mother a lot better than they did. Angered by his attitude, she asked to be put through to a supervisor, but he initially refused to, claiming they were merely selling insurance.
Undeterred, Mrs De Souza insisted she be put through to a supervisor, and he eventually agreed to do so. After being kept on hold listening to music for an extended period, she hung up the phone. She has since reported the company to Trading Standards and the Citizens Advice Bureau, who were both sympathetic, but didn’t believe any laws had been broken.
There are a number of near-identical stories about Heat Plan Utilities on internet forums that deal with issues relating to care of the elderly. Typically, the calls take place during daytime hours and the same price, £119.99 is quoted.
Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director at Age UK said: “Scams can take place on the doorstep; by phone, on the internet or through the post and the sad fact is that if something sounds too good to be true then it probably is. If you feel under pressure to commit, then just step away because any reputable company will allow you time to think an offer over.
“Anyone can be taken in by a scam so people shouldn’t be embarrassed to report a crime. If you feel you are or have been a victim speak to the police, a family member or friend.”
Matt Smith, of Heatplan Utilities, defended his company’s sales techniques. He said: “We obtain our information from surveys, and if people are well enough to give their credit card details over the phone, they are well enough to complete surveys. Our sales techniques are perfectly legal.”
Meanwhile Mrs Morrish considers herself to be one of the lucky ones. She said: “I was fortunate in that I realised I had been mis-sold the insurance very soon after the call, and there was enough time to stop the bank payment from going through.
“I’m sure there are plenty of vulnerable elderly people who weren’t so lucky, and I’d urge those who look after older people to remind them not to give their card details over the phone, or to feel pressurised into buying products they don’t need by telesales calls.”