Scams And How To Avoid Being Caught Out

We’ve all laughed at the email from the wealthy African Prince offering a cut of his millions in return for help to get those millions out of the country. ‘Who an earth would fall for that?’ we snigger as we hit the delete key. Unfortunately that is the easily-spottable tip of a very large iceberg of cons.

Have you ever wondered what would happen next if you responded to one of these scams in the positive? What’s the scammer’s next play? At what point would they try to relieve you of your hard earned dough? It is reported that fraud costs small to medium businesses in the UK around £9.2 Billion in 2013, which is frankly an astounding sum of money and would suggest that the scumbags are getting away with it.

Worryingly, there are a number of scammers out there that seem to be targeting printers in general, and large format printers in particular. Out of interest and for research purposes, we at Venture Banners followed several scams through, and though most are shallow and easily identified, some are quite ingenious…

The Shipping Scam

We received a quotation request for 100 banners with the words ‘Arms to the Poor’ printed in black text on a white background. The broken English contained in the email and the content of the banner (we’re guessing that should have read ‘Alms’) immediately raised suspicions, however we were interested to see what happened next, so we responded with a ludicrously high price, which unsurprisingly was accepted straightaway. The ‘client’ then proceeded to give us his credit card details with instruction to take an additional £1000 which we were to pay to his shipping company, as the banners were going out of the UK and would be picked up by Agorie Shipping. Bank details were of course included for Agorie.

We did some checks. The credit card was genuine and would go through for the full amount including the shipping costs. So what could possibly go wrong?

Well, quite a lot actually. We’d already tracked the IP address of the original email to Ghana, which raised some red flags and basic enquiries found that the credit card being offered belonged to a gentleman who resided in Romford. More red flags.

So what would have happened if we had gone through with the transaction? Well it’s simple really: once the gentleman in Essex discovered his card had been used fraudulently, the monies would be clawed back from us by the card company and we would of course be unable to recover the one thousand pounds paid by us legitimately to the shipping company (which, incidentally further investigations showed didn’t actually exist).

The conmen would have ‘earned’ one thousand pounds for just a couple of emails. Easy and lucrative. We’d followed the scam through, seen what we needed to see, now all that was left to do was inform the poor man in Romford his credit card details were being bandied around the Web by a man in an Internet Café in West Africa.

The funny thing was, we were having lunch with an industry friend just a few short weeks after we had played this out and over lunch he told us of this amazing deal he had put together on a large banner order. It all sounded terribly familiar. His face was ashen as we explained the scam to him. Unfortunately he had paid the shipping company, and predictably, the credit card payment to him was clawed back. No-one ever came to pick up those banners.

The Overpayment Scam

This is brutally simple but very effective, and seems to be organised in this country. Someone requests a quote from you for ten roller banners. They agree to the quote and ask for a pro-forma invoice. You’re paid. In fact with online banking, you can see the money sitting in your account.

Only by mistake they’ve over paid you by £1000. Realising their error they phone you, ‘admin error!’ they say and ask if you wouldn’t mind transferring the thousand pound overpayment back to them. Obviously they’re new customer and they’ve just spent a lot of money with you so your customer service reflex kicks in. ‘Of course’ you say ‘I’ll do it right now’. Wrong!

If you look very closely at your bank account, you’ll notice that even though the customer’s money is showing in your balance, it’s not actually cleared funds.

Guess what happens next……yep you guessed it, the money paid in by the customer is actually a cheque paid in over the counter and is destined to bounce in five days time, giving them ample time to fleece you. You are then left one thousand pounds out of pocket and if you’re really unlucky ten roller banners down as well.

We’ve managed to save several people falling victim to this scam because the scammers are lazy and use the same artwork for the roller banners every time. We were explaining this scam to one of our trade customers who had been targeted and had asked us to produce the roller banners for him but he was convinced it was a genuine order, he had spoken to the customer who was a ‘really nice bloke’ right up until the email came in ‘we’ve overpaid you, would you mind…’ which happened whilst we were actually on the phone to him! He was obviously disappointed to ‘lose’ a lucrative order, but thankful he wasn’t a grand out of pocket.

There are numerous ways these swindlers can try to steal from you so the Met Police and Barclays have produced a booklet outlining how to avoid becoming a victim of the scammers. Download it using the link below and as Shaw Taylor used to say, ‘Keep your eyes peeled’.

The Little Book of Big Scams – Business Edition (2.6MB) – This booklet has been produced by the Metropolitan Police in partnership with Barclays Bank plc.

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

I am sure you are aware Venture Banners advertise a double page spread in most of the leading print trade magazines. We have long standing relationships with these magazines and advertise month in, month out, all year round.

In fact very occasionally one of the editors phones me for a 250 word comment on whatever subject is the point of discussion that month. I’ve usually got an opinion, so it’s no problem for me to whip up something half readable.

And I must admit, I read most of the trade magazines cover to cover, I am fascinated by some of the articles and insights. Though every now and again, whilst leafing through the pages, I see an advert that looks very similar to ours, but is never as good. It’s offering products very similar to ours and would you believe it… prices very similar to ours. Someone is trying to muscle in on our business!

At this point you might expect me to get annoyed or worry about a potential loss of revenue, but instead I roll my eyes and continue my search for the advert featuring the girl with the ‘wrapped’ bottom.

The reason I am so philosophical about these copycat adverts is that I can pretty much guarantee that they won’t appear in next month’s issue, or if they do, they’ll do the company in question more harm than good. You see, we are pretty unique in the wide format print market. We don’t have ridiculously high minimum order costs or a price calculation system so complicated you’ll need your Captain Midnight Decoder Ring to understand it.

We are true trade-supplier. We are setup to work in the background to make you look fantastic. This philosophy and company culture gives us the edge in terms of the consistency of our levels of service to the trade. Our equipment is arguably the best in the world and our prices are set so that you can make a tidy margin on them. We handle huge volumes of trade work so that all our customers benefit from the economies of scale and on top of that, our levels of service and turnaround are consistently superb. And if ever they are not, phone me, I want to know about it.

On Phoenix Companies

Fire

We find ourselves facing challenging economic conditions and they are not being made any easier by the rising number of companies going bust to avoid their debt and then starting up again the very next day with a different name and a clean bill of health.

Obviously there are companies that take the insolvency route because they’ve investigated all the available options and have chosen that particular way out of their current situation. At Venture Banners, we like to think we take the time build up a good rapport with our customers. We also like to think we offer a pretty unique service, so on the odd occasion when one of our trade customers does go pop, they will usually phone us and ask for our help, thus keeping the relationship intact. The end result is: the client gets to keep a valued supplier, while our financial exposure is minimised.

However,  I am more interested in talking about the absolute scum that start a company, build up debt and then go bust only start up the next day with a slightly different name ( you know who you are, Apple Print.info), leaving their suppliers licking their wounds with little chance of getting any money back—the so-called Phoenix companies.

Phoenix’… sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? A magical mythical bird of fire, though the reality of Phoenix companies is anything but. While researching the subject, I was shocked to hear a story from a very large printing company that had a long-standing customer who went bust owing them thirty thousand pounds, only to phone the very next week with a new company name expecting the same trading and credit terms! Astonishingly naive.

The ripple effect of a company going bust can often be huge, creating cash flow issues and on occasion making the perfectly legitimate supplying company late in paying its own debts and finding its own credit score being adversely affected.

When we were knocked for £1,300 earlier this year (see above) I contacted the nastiest debt recovery people I could find: Shotgun, Knuckleduster and Blade Ltd… or something like that. Not becuase of the money, but the fact that the b***dards who had built up this debt were practically laughing down the phone at me, but do you know what, they were protected by law, so Shotgun, Knuckleduster and Blade Ltd could do nothing to help.

I personally don’t know how these people who Phoenix can sleep at night, very comfortably with our money in the bank probably. If you are one of these people who do the Pheonix thing I have some words of advice; You can’t run bath water, let alone a company, do us all a favour and find yourself a job, you’re obviously not an Entrepreneur.

Introducing Flags!

When I look back on it, it was a bizarre set of coincidences that led me into large format printing and starting Venture Banners (a story for another time!), but when we were setting up the business all those years ago, whilst doing my market research, the one thing that struck me was how difficult it was to get a price on a banner from anyone.

Banners are pretty straightforward, yet I came across various companies, all of whom used a seemingly unfathomable formula to calculate the price. What was more, is that the formula seemed to change almost on a daily basis, making consistency for resellers impossible.

Flags
Some Flags

So that would be our unique selling point: to have a transparent, concise menu pricing system. Not unsurprisingly, it has worked very well—no one likes having to use a Captain Midnight Decoder Ring just to get a price on three metre by one metre banner. And you may have noticed most of the other companies have followed suit. We have used that policy as the corner stone of our business and on all new substrates that we have launched; Self-adhesive Vinyl, Backlit Banners, Digital Canvas and Foamex to name but a few.

The one substrate we didn’t get involved with was flags. Apart from the fact we didn’t have a dye-sublimation printer, the flag market was a complete mystery to me. I heard stories of companies using printers in Poland and others importing them from China. And the prices—good grief! Even Captain Midnight’s Decoder Ring would struggle.

The annoying thing was our customers were asking us, almost on a daily basis, if we produced flags and we don’t like to let people down. People liked the way we operated and wanted to see flags in the product line-up, but if we couldn’t do it properly, then we wouldn’t do it all.

But we’ve been working on it. The brief was simple: a good quality product, a transparent, competitive price, and they must be produced in the UK.

Well, after some considerable time, we’ve done it. Flags are now a part of the line-up at Venture. We are expecting great things, as flags and banners compliment each other perfectly. Our trade customers can benefit from our consistent, competitive price and have another excellent revenue opportunity.

I think we can make Captain Midnight redundant.

Teardrop Flag
Teardrop Flag
Feather Flag
Feather Flag

We are starting with standard flag printing and a few flag products. These flag products include a Teardrop Flag and a Feather/Sail Flag, which come with various base options.

The flags and flag products will be available to trade customers first and provided the whole order processing goes as planned then we will be adding it to our retail site shortly after.

The Origin Of The Problem

A long time ago, before I decided large format printing might be a good way of putting bread on the table and clothing the children, I sold cars. I started in the mid eighties selling Fiat’s and I gradually progressed through the manufacturers going to Vauxhall, Renault and Toyota.

I finally ended up selling all manner of prestige and exotic cars at a dealership in London and am very fortunate to have been able to drive some of the fastest and most expensive cars on the planet. I worked there for five delightful years and developed an understanding of prestige cars surpassed only by Jeremy Clarkson and with all of this experience I can tell you one universal, undeniable truth… a Mercedes is better than a Fiat.

Now, admittedly that’s not exactly rocket science but it seems we at Venture Banners had forgotten this simple rule when we acted on market forces to supply a cheap roller banner unit. We looked at several manufacturers, some of the units were simply hideous and we eventually chose to supply what we thought was the best of the bunch, the Origin system.

Now, Venture Banners is a company that has grown on its reputation. Our production departments are second to none and although things don’t always go to plan, we’ve always taken the view that the measure of the company is how quickly we sort problems out. So it was quite a surprise to us when we started to receive problem phone calls about these cheap roller banners; the feet have fallen off; the unit has sprung closed and the graphic has cracked; we can’t get the graphic out and perhaps more worryingly; its sliced my finger when I tried to put it away.

At first we thought these reports were the ramblings of people who had no idea how to put up a very simple banner stand but then one day whilst myself and Steve were helping out fitting the graphics to a batch due for delivery the next day, one of the units sprung out of my hand unexpectedly and hit Steve on the top of his head, cutting him quite badly.

What we learned, to our cost, over several weeks was that these roller banners are cheap for a reason and in the same way you should avoid calling a member of the Russian Mafia a ‘big girls blouse’ you should avoid saying to someone selling them “I’ll have one of those”. The outcome will be the same; you’ll be bloody and in pain… literally.

We have now taken the Origin off sale for sake of our sanity and also our reputation. The entry roller banner model is now the Greenwich. It’s slightly more expensive but the difference is planetary—it’s a Mercedes to the Origin’s Fiat and worth every penny of the additional cost.

So take a tip from an old car dealer: when it comes to your roller banners, buy a Mercedes. You know it makes sense.

New Blog, New Ideas

So here we are — the people behind Venture Banners. Hello!

Three and a half years on from when we were a two-man operation in a garage, our business has grown exponentially year-on-year. We’ve moved to our own office, increased the size of our sales, studio and print teams, and secured two production factories across England. We’re now one of the UK’s largest suppliers of printed advertising banners.

We believe this is down to the hard work and effort put into making sure that we continue to keep our customers happy. This year alone, we’ve reduced our delivery rates, introduced a shiny new online shop, started-up our own ‘northern’ office at Kingfisher Digital, broken all of our previous records and benchmarks, brought in a new online discount voucher scheme, started a gallery of lovely banner templates, expanded our own dedicated design studio, launched a new suite of banner display stands, added a new range of substrates to choose from, created a convenient trade pack for trade customers, and built our very own internal online order-processing system from the ground up. Phew!

On top of that, because we’re a fun bunch of people, we like to keep ourselves happy, too: we watched the (admittedly disappointing) World Cup in style, invested in our own ‘creative area’ (two huge BeanBags), and have been busy decorating our office walls.

Over the course of the next few months, we’ll be continuing to improve our core business by streamlining the order process and making it easier to get your banners faster. We’ll also be expanding into new markets, adding new substrates to our range, sharing our thoughts on the banner market as a whole, launching a cool new business (sssshhh!), holding a few giveaway competitions and prize-draws, giving an insight into (hopefully the most interesting parts of) our business, highlighting some of our more unusual projects, introducing ourselves, and providing tips on the best ways to design and display banners to get your message across in the most impacting and cost-effective ways.

And where do I find all this wonderful stuff, you might wonder? Glad you asked. Right here at the Venture Banners blog (blog.venturebanners.co.uk), of course!

To stay up-to-date, why not follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or subscribe to our RSS feed. We’ll also be setting up a regular email newsletter to keep all of our customers informed of our latest news and offers.

We encourage all kinds of feedback: feel free to comment on our blog posts (no sign-up required), say hi on Twitter or Facebook, email us, or give us a call. You can also chat via our Instant Messaging account (online during office hours): [email protected] Let us know your thoughts on what we’re doing, what you think we could do differently, and what you’d like to see us improve on. We’re open to all ideas!

We’re very excited about where we’re heading, and we hope you can join us along the way.