Newsletter - sign up here
Search Webster
Webster's pieces from The Oldie
Webster's Webwatch

Even more online scams

July 2011

I receive a steady, and very welcome, stream of emails from readers on many subjects (, but recently I seem to have raised a couple of subjects that sparked more response than usual: the iniquitous cost of printing ink, and the various financial scams and ramps that are regularly tried out on us.

There’s not a lot we can do about the printing ink issue, although several readers have recommended the use of good quality compatible cartridges, rather than branded ones, which I heartily endorse.  Many suppliers trade through, which is a good place to start looking.

However, we can do something about the various sneaky, but often legal (just), ways in which the internet is used to pick our pockets.  I have already warned about websites that charge for what should be free – the Telephone Preference Service suffers especially from this, as does the driving test booking system and the EHIC card application site.

Oldie readers have been quick to add to the list.  One regular rip-off (although perfectly legal) is the “discount club” trick.  I must admit I fell foul of this myself a year or so ago, and many readers have been similarly caught, so please be alert.

It works like this: you buy something from a perfectly sensible online retailer, but are then taken to a screen that says you can have £10 off your next purchase if you join their “discount club”.  As well as the £10 cash back, they will then give you discount vouchers (usually 10%) that can be used, apparently, all over the place.  It’s all very attractive, in these hard times.

What is not made clear (although of course is tucked away in the small print) is that you are actually signing up to pay them £10 or so each month from now on in return for the discounts.  They already have your credit card details from the purchase you have just made, so you don’t notice the money being debited.

I fell for it – as have many readers – but of course I didn’t notice until the credit card statement appeared, and during the inevitable performance associated with cancelling the arrangement, another payment went out.  The net result is that I was £20 down, and had not used the discount vouchers, which had now expired.

Like so many of these schemes, I doubt that anything illegal is going on, it’s just sharp practice.  They rely on sucking in hundreds of mugs like me, who drop £20 or so into their laps and then decide that life is too short to make a huge fuss over the price of a pub lunch and are grateful to have spotted what is going on before matters got much worse.

There may even be some people for whom it is a worthwhile expense, but as you would have to spend £100 per month at their chosen retailers just to break even, I rather doubt it.

So beware - if you are offered such a deal, ignore it and save yourself a few quid, and also avoid the risk of feeling, as I did, like an idiot.

A more pernicious trick that you also need to look out for is the “virus” fraud; someone will telephone you and claim to be from the Microsoft Technical Support, or similar.  They will say that your ISP has reported that your computer is infected by a virus, and that if urgent action is not taken you will lose everything on it.  They will offer to cure the problem if you follow their instructions.

What will actually happen is that they will lead you to a legitimate looking website that implants a widget into your computer; this will allow them to control it and look through it.  So, when they ask you for money to pay for what they have just done, they can make it difficult for you if you refuse.

I have had one of these calls, as have several readers; this time I wasn’t fooled and told them to push off.  Microsoft, as you can imagine, is appalled by this con-trick, and insists that they never make unsolicited technical support phone calls.  So if you receive one, just put the phone down.  Very firmly indeed.