The programme centred on mailshots sent by a company called Star Shopping – registered to a PO Box in Dublin but operating out of the Netherlands – which claimed that all recipients had to do was order items from a catalogue to get a cheque for £20,500.
Viewers who had ordered goods – including household products and electrical items – had received up to 25 letters confirming their cheque was on the way but had not received a penny.
As far back as 2004, the Office of Fair Trading took legal action against a Dutch holding company called Best BV, which traded as Best Of, Oliveal, and Star Shopping following a cross-border investigation.
The OFT won an injunction against the firm to prevent it from “sending UK consumers misleading mailings” and the court ruled that Best BV would be fined €1m for any subsequent misleading piece. According to the OFT spokesman this court case shut the firm down.
And he added: “As far as we’re concerned this investigation is closed. If the company is doing it again, it’s doing it as a phoenix company. It does occasionally happen. We have received complaints but the question is whether or not there is sufficient concern to action them.”
However, one industry source said: “How many more times will legitimate direct mail be dragged through the dirt with these scams. The fact is they prey on the vulnerable and like it or not put our business in a bad light.”
In the past, the BBC has been accused of linking all direct mail with scam mail and last year provoked industry outrage in a Panorama programme which labelled the medium “evil”.
The Metropolitan Police, Royal Mail and the National Fraud Authority have joined forces to tackle the problem – estimated to cost UK consumers more than £3.5bn a year – although the insider remains unconvinced.
He said: “We hear a lot about companies being closed down but they seem to be one step ahead of the authorities and just keep coming back. Even established businesses such as Reader’s Digest, with their huge prize draws, don’t exactly help.
“Isn’t it time the DM industry – including Royal Mail, TNT, and the DMA – joined forces to educate the public about the differences between scammers and legitimate advertising mail?
“I know the DMA is working on a campaign to sell the industry to legislators and big business but it will need more financial clout to launch an effective campaign for advertising mail.”
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