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: http://www.companycheck.co.uk/company/07067381. 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?

Lottobytext: SMS spammers

I’ve been getting a fair number of SMS spams recently trying to persuade me to sign up for a lottery number scam. They come from shortcode 87770, and look like this:

FreeMsg: get 5 FREE lines in the nxt Euromillions £41M Jckpt Txt TRY to 87770 Lines will be txt 2 ur mobile LottobyText 0208708109768

Despite texting back ‘STOP’ to the number, they keep on coming. I’ve also tried using their online form and the email address supplied on the LottobyText website, but that hasn’t helped either.

So I did a little Googling, and found that they’re coming from a company by the name of Marketing Craze Ltd. That reveals the names of the directors, so I thought I’d try getting in touch directly. Here’s what I just sent:

To: [email protected]
Subject: Unsolicited SMS from LottobyText

Hi Mark,

One of your companies, LottobyText, keeps on sending me unsolicited text
messages. I’m sure you’re aware that that’s illegal. Please can you make
sure that in future, you only send marketing texts to people who have
explicitly signed up for your services.

Every time I get a message from one of your companies, I’ll send you
another email to remind you as well as reporting it to the ICO.

Regards

Mark Goodge

I’ll post any updates here if/when Mr Lewis ever replies to me. If he doesn’t reply, I’ll try emailing his fellow directors instead.

Incidentally, Marketing Craze have form as email spammers as well. Here’s an interesting link at a web forum.

Thunderbird tells it like it is

Sad political nerd that I am, I’m signed up to the email mailing lists of all the main parties. So, this afternoon, the expected post-budget missives dropped into my inbox. I was rather amused to see, though, that Thunderbird apparently doesn’t have a very high opinion of Ed Miliband:

This message may be a scam

(Click on the image to see it full-size)

In case you’re wondering, no, none of the others triggered the warning. It was just the email from Ed.

There is a slightly serious point to this, though. Things that trigger the scam alert on Thunderbird are the presence in the email of elements such as tracking images as well as phrases that are characteristic of spammers and phishers. If you’re serious about using email as a means of mass communication, then it’s important to make sure that you don’t get caught by spamtraps. This one made it as far as my inbox; other people may well not have seen it at all as their ISP or email provider will have filtered it out. Not making the effort to avoid that is a bit of an own goal.