Debt Advisory Line: Fun with an SMS spammer

I got an SMS spam this morning:

Are you struggling with debts of over £5k with 2 or more creditors? Reply CALL for a no obligation call from an advisor of STOP.

The sending number was shortcode 60601, in case anyone else gets the same thing.

Normally, all I’d do with SMS spam is report it to O2 and ignore it, but this time I decided to see if I could dig a little deeper and find out who had spammed me. So I replied “CALL” and waited to see what would happen.

It took them three goes to get through to me; the first time their operator hung up almost as soon as I went off-script and the second time I was busy so it just went to voicemail. But that was handy, because – somewhat unexpectedly – the number they called from wasn’t withheld. The calling number was 0161 429 3337. That’s a Manchester number, and a bit of Googling revealed it to belong to Debt Advisory Line Limited, company number 07067381.

There are several websites where you can look up company details, so I took a look at one of them, Company Check. Here’s their page for Debt Advisory Line Limited: There’s a lot of information on that page, but the interesting stuff here is found when you click the “Key Financials” tab. These are the current figures:

Cash at Bank: £1,062,206
Total Current Assets: £4,175,819

So far, so good. That’s a lot of positive value there. But wait…

Total Current Liabilities: £5,489,672

That’s nearly five and a half million quid in debt. All of which adds up to:

Net Worth: £-3,297,184

That’s over three million the wrong side of the solvency line.

I don’t know about you, but I find it rather amusing that a company which makes money selling debt advice is itself serious in debt. Maybe they should take some of their own advice. Or maybe not, since they clearly don’t actually know all that much about staying out of debt.

Anyway, a bit more poking around the Company Check page gives a list of directors. Two of them in particular have been directors for a while, Mr Benjamin George Richard Farrar and Mr Mark James Mitchell. Together, these two seem to make a habit of running financial companies, mainly under the banner of their holding organisation Mitchell Farrar Group LLP. And, guess what… the Financials tab shows that to be both seriously in debt and insolvent as well. Oh dear.

So, by the time I got another call from them, I had plenty of interesting information to run by the agent. I asked him how much he was paid for working there. “So so” was his reply. I guess you can’t afford to pay much when you’re that far into the red. I asked him why his employers were sending out spam SMS, in contravention of the law. His answer was that they didn’t send it, it was another company, Axiom, acting on their behalf. Some further investigation later revealed that Axiom are merely the suppliers of bulk SMS software, so that answer is a tad misleading to say the least. Although we can’t really blame the agent for that, since his script clearly doesn’t cover that kind of question and, to give him credit, he was prepared to argue with me for a bit before finally giving in and ending the call. Although, of course, that’s not what he’s supposed to do either, since arguing with me isn’t selling debt advice – it’s just wasting his time and his employer’s money on a fruitless phone call.

I finished off by suggesting to him that, if he was looking for a long-term career then it would probably be a good idea to start job-hunting now. After all, a company which is heavily in debt and can’t meet its liabilities may well cease trading at fairly short notice. And, while I don’t have any sympathy at all for the owners of companies like Debt Advisory Line Ltd, I do have some for their staff who don’t realise what they’ve got into.

Incidentally, if you, or anyone else, are struggling with debt, then the absolute last place you need to go to is a company like Debt Advisory Line Ltd. After all, they’re a business, not a charity. They have to make money somehow (even if they don’t make enough of it). And the only way they can do that is by making money from the people who turn to them for advice – who are already in debt to begin with.

If you need help with debts, then you can get all the advice you need without it costing you a penny. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau is a good place to start, or their online Debt Advice Guide. Other, good sources of impartial and genuinely free advice include Money A&E, the Money Advice Trust’s National Debtline and Christians Against Poverty. Don’t be put off by the name of the latter, it isn’t just for churchgoers or those of a religious bent.

Whatever it is you want or need, there is one thing you should absolutely, never, ever do, and that’s buy something or take advice from a company which sends out unsolicited SMS messages. After all, if they’ll act unethically and illegally when advertising to you, what guarantee do you have that they won’t act unethically and illegally when selling to you?

Remembrance Day

Assembling in the Marketplace
It was a bright, crisp autumn morning as we assembled in the Marketplace for Remembrance Day. The mayor in his robes, the band’s instruments gleaming in the sun, the sea, air and army cadets in their uniforms, the old soldiers from the British Legion, the scouts, the guides, the cubs, the brownies, councillors, distinguished guests and a smattering of onlookers. We processed to the war memorial. In the park, children were playing and dogs were being walked, while the rowing club were going through their exercises on the river. It all seemed strangely incongruous. We waited for the appointed time. It seemed as though were waiting for an age, although in reality it must have only been a few minutes. Then the trumpeter blew the Last Post, and we kept silence. And the park stood still. The dogs, and their owners, stopped walking. The children came down from the playground equipment. The river was untroubled by passing craft. The end of the silence, and wreaths were laid. Each time, the same process. Walk to the memorial, stand briefly to attention, lay the wreath and step back. Uniformed personnel saluted, civilians briefly bowed their heads. Then turn, and walk away. Wreath-laying over, we processed to the church. The band played as we passed through the bell tower. As we left, the park had returned to normal, the sounds of active children competing with the music from the band. It was a pattern that, I’m sure, was repeated at war memorials the length and breadth of the land.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

But I’m equally sure that normality wasn’t suspended this morning for Remembrance Day in Syria, or Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Somalia, or Mali, or Sudan, to name just a few of the places on Wikipedia’s “List of ongoing military conflicts“. For that matter, normality wasn’t suspended for Remembrance Day on the battlegrounds of World War II, or in Korea, Suez, The Falklands, Kuwait, Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo, to name just a few of the wars and conflicts that British soldiers have fought in since the very first Remembrance Day in November 1919.

Some might argue that this means Remembrance Day means nothing. Have we not yet learned that fighting solves nothing? Why do we keep on sending people to kill and be killed as a means of settling our petty differences? And isn’t all this just a glorification of conflict?

When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Their Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today

I would argue just the opposite. If we ever become so casual about war that we no longer care to remember those who die in pursuit of it, then we have lost an essential part of our humanity. Far from glorifying war and combat, Remembrance Day shows how far we have come in our desire to end it.

I’ve already mentioned the first Remembrance Day, in 1919. But why was it the first? After all, the First World War wasn’t the first time British troops had died in combat. The entire history of this island is steeped in militarism. There is barely a country in Europe that we haven’t, at some stage, been at war with. We name our railway stations and public squares after famous battles. We conquered half the world with a gun in one hand and a bag of gold in the other. This is a nation built on war. And, let it be said, so is almost very other country. We are most certainly not unique, or even the worst offenders.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

So why are the no memorials to those who died at Waterloo and Trafalgar? Why did it take until 1919 to establish a lasting commemoration of our war dead? Prosaically, one simple explanation may be the sheer size of World War I, and its death toll, compared to other conflicts that were then in recent memory. Because it was bigger, people cared more. But I think there’s more to it than that.

Why did it take until 1883 to abolish slavery throughout the British Empire? Why didn’t we have elected parliaments before 1264? Why did it take so long before that innovation finally resulted in universal suffrage in 1928? There’s no simple, single answer to any of these other than the fact that there has to be a first time for everything. And, whatever his reasons, in 1919 King George V announced that the anniversary of Armistice Day was to be a commemoration of the dead. And so began a journey that, unlike the initiatives of William Wilberforce and Simon de Montfort, is still a very long way from completion.

Dreams of the day when rampant there will rise
The flowers of Truth and Freedom from the blood
Of noble youth who died: when there will bud
The flower of Love from human sacrifice.

Remembrance Day hasn’t ended war. But it does mean we no longer treat war with the same casual disregard that led to the conflict which inspired it. It means that politicians and leaders now have to justify war to the people rather than taking their acceptance of it for granted. It means that we only go to war when we consider it necessary. It means that we consider it necessary a lot less frequently than in times gone by.

The day will come when we look back at George V’s institution of Remembrance Day in the same way that we look at Wilberforce’s campaign against slavery. That day hasn’t come yet. Frankly, I don’t expect it to come in my lifetime. But, in the meantime, every Remembrance Day ceremony is a step closer to a world without war.

And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.

Poetry extracts, in order: For the Fallen by Robert Laurence Binyon, The Kohima Epitaph, In Flanders Fields by John McCrae, Matthew Copse by John Wiliam Streets, We Shall Keep the Faith by Moina Michael.

The Newsnight affair rolls on.

I woke up this morning to news that the Director General of the BBC, George Entwistle, has resigned. Whether he should have done so or not is a matter of debate; I’m not so certain that he’s personally culpable to that extent but it may well be that he’s decided that he simply doesn’t want to be a part of it any longer. And, if so, I can well understand it.

There’s a concept in sport known as the “make up decision”. If, as a referee, umpire or whatever, you realise that you’ve made a major mistake which significantly favours one team, there’s a tendency to try to right that wrong be giving an equally dubious decision the other way. So, for example, the football referee gives a penalty, or the cricket umpire gives a player out, and then realises that, in fact they should not have done so. So, later on in the match, they’ll give an equally dodgy penalty or dismissal to the other team. It rarely works; if anything, it makes the ref look even weaker. Two wrongs, as the saying goes, do not make a right.

The Newsnight programme which almost, but not quite, named Lord McAlpine (but gave enough clues to enable people to find his name anyway) is looking more and more like a make-up decision. Having been roundly castigated for failing to expose one abuser, they then went overboard on trying to expose another with only the scantiest of evidence.

If it was just a mistake, though, then that may have been excusable. Being weak is not the same as being evil, and a referee who gives a make up decision and later regrets it can become a stronger referee as a result. But what concerns me is that finger which pointed at Lord McAlpine may have been pointed in malice rather than simple error. And the BBC Newsnight team swallowed it because of their own inbuilt bias. Caught out covering up abuse by one of our own? Well, let’s make up for that by exposing a prominent Tory. It isn’t just about being seen to be on the side of the victims this time, it’s about revenge.

Incidentally, if you Google for the names of those fingered by the Twitterati as being part of the so-called paedophile ring (and I’m not going to name any more of them, although it only takes a minute or so to find the same list used by Philip Schofield), one other name crops up repeatedly: the name of David Icke. Not, I add, as an alleged abuser himself, but as a source of a lot of the allegations. If that simple fact didn’t ring any alarm bells in the minds of Newsnight’s researchers (or, for that matter, the Labour politicians who have seen this as a good opportunity to attack the government), then, frankly, they are not fit for purpose. Maybe the next BBC DG might like to address this alarming lack of competence in his (or her) staff.