Highland Trading Standards warn Christmas tree website is bogus.

Highland Council’s Trading Standards service is warning businesses across the UK not to be conned by a scam Christmas tree website which falsely claims links to Inverness and Aviemore.

The website www.scottishwholesalexmastrees.com has what may at first appear to be an Inverness telephone number and claims the trees it sells are grown at the ‘Inverness Tree Farm’ near Aviemore.

As a result of their investigations Trading Standards Officers in Highland believe that the “tree farm” identified on the website does not exist and together with other falsified information that either appears on the website (or has been provided by those who are behind the website), are extremely suspicious that anyone who has ordered product from the website will neither receive their order or be able to recover any money paid.

The template for the website appears to have been stolen from a genuine website design company with offices in India and the USA.  Imagery on the site is certainly not of a tree farm in Aviemore but more likely North West USA.  The scam website itself is located on a computer server in Utah in the USA, although the fraudsters are understood to be operating in Europe.
Invoices generated by the website operators contain false address information and incorrect VAT numbers.  The person who registered the website has also used a fictitious address.

Gordon Robb, Trading Standards Manager explained: “Although the website displays an apparent Inverness 01463 telephone number that does not necessarily mean they are located in this area.  With modern telephony services this number could be ported anywhere in the world. 

“We are also extremely concerned that the criminals appear to be creating the impression they have links to genuine Christmas tree producers in our area.  Potential buyers are being told that some of the trees are grown at a genuine Christmas tree farm north of Inverness.  The VAT number being used is stolen from another genuine Christmas tree producer elsewhere in Scotland, who has verified that they have no connection with the questionable “business” behind the website.”

The website operators are using search engine keyword adverts to attract buyers to their site.  The Christmas trees we are advised by legitimate business are being offered for prices around a third of the going rate and they have as a result generated considerable interest from potential buyers.  Highland Council has received enquiries from businesses all over the UK including one businessman from the South coast of England who was going to order £7,000 worth of trees for his retail outlets before he realised something was wrong.  Another buyer in the Midlands was going to buy some trees to help raise money for charity before he again felt something wasn’t quite right and contacted Highland Council.  Highland Trading Standards is aware that that some invoices have been paid.

Steps have being taken to have the website taken down and also to stop search engines highlighting the site.

Gordon Robb added: “Due to the complexities of international e-commerce law and structures, the website may stay live longer than is desirable, however I can assure businesses that all necessary action is being taken to mitigate the commercial impact of this scam.  We strongly advise all internet buyers to satisfy themselves that a website is genuine before making a purchase.  The message is: ‘if in doubt, don’t buy’ and if anyone has made any payment to immediately to contact their bank for assistance.”

1 Nov 2012