Lincoln-based Kirby Cleaner retailer Elite Systems and Fiaz Mughal, one of the two directors of the company, have been fined collectively over £17,000, for unfair trade practices across Lincolnshire.
Complaints were made to Consumer Direct that Elite was seeking business and selling Kirby Cleaners, via free prize draws. The prize was supposedly a free carpet clean, but turned out to be a sales demonstration involving high-pressure selling.
The Trading Standards Service at Lincolnshire County Council investigated the complaints, and in June 2009 officers executed a search warrant at Elite’s premises, seizing a number of items and documents. These included details on customers’ homes, cars, and wealth.
Seven charges were laid, with both defendants entering not guilty pleas. Trading Standards said it had no reason to believe the prize draw, run by a third party Kirby company, did not take place.
Giving evidence in court, one consumer explained how he had been misled by Elite about the nature of their visit to his home. At one point he had asked the salesman to leave but they had refused, and then gave the ‘hard sell’ for a cleaner the consumer did not want.
Another consumer gave evidence about a telephone call from Elite pretending to be from a competitor, gaining access to their home and providing a service through deception. An ex member of staff confirmed that she had been told to mislead customers about where she was calling from.
The magistrates found that Elite and Mughal had contravened the requirements of professional diligence by providing false information and applying undue pressure on customers to buy their product.
“By hiding the true commercial intent this company deceitfully got a foot in the door of the average consumer who would not otherwise have agreed,” said Nick Dawes, Divisional Manager at Trading Standards.
“The prize draw tickets contained personal information gathered by the company allowing them to target potential customers; I don’t believe that the average person would be very happy accepting a free prize draw ticket knowing that information was being written on the stub about them,” Dawes added.