Trading Standards warns local businesses to be wary of telephone cold callers.

Trading Standards Officers at The Highland Council are reminding businesses to be wary of making donations to telephone cold-callers looking for contributions to seemingly good causes.  Reports have come in of Highland businesses being targeted by publishing firms seeking payments for educational publications in return for the business being named as a contributor.

Trading Standards Manager Gordon Robb explained: “Some of these cold-callers are scammers who will take money from small businesses in return for nothing.  Others are probably legal as they do produce and, to some extent, distribute publications.  However, it is often the case that the publications do not make any significant contribution to educational needs that are often already very well served by the authorities.  Some of the publications are of very poor quality.  The cold-callers are often commercial organisations seeking to profit from an enterprise that may bring no benefit to the Highland community.”

Recent enquiries received by Trading Standards from local businesses have involved publishing companies seeking contributions to: community safety initiatives, disadvantaged children funds and educational programmes for cyber-bullying.
Gordon Robb continued: “Many of these callers will employ ‘hard-sell’ tactics and businesses should not be pressurised into agreeing to make payments without being sure that any contribution to a new publication was going to be worthwhile and make a significant contribution locally.” 

Caithness businessman Bill Fernie recently received one of these “hard sell” phone calls to his business.  He commented: “As a local councillor I am concerned if local businesses are talked into donating money for items which are of little value to the schools.  Businesses should always check with the school first before agreeing to make a donation to a third party.  Head teachers should be the first contact regarding donations and not a phone call from a business producing materials.”

Louise Jones, Highland Council’s ICT Curriculum Manager and Chair of the Highland E-Safety Group commented: “To avoid waste and to ensure only high quality information which is factually correct is provided to schools, Education Culture and Sport Service have developed their own resources with Highland partners which are free of charge to schools. The E-Safety Group provide appropriate resources www.highlandesafety.wordpress.com and also signpost to approved national websites such as the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre CEOP’s education site www.thinkuknow.co.uk or www.childnet.com.”

She added: “This issue is not restricted to e-safety and other topics might be used as a lure to purchase or sponsor materials. We would urge businesses not to be duped by such unsolicited calls and to contact Highland Trading Standards Service for further advice.  Local businesses do support school communities very well and this is something we encourage. Any business wishing to offer support can contact their local school directly to see what kind of contribution might be most beneficial to them.”

Trading Standards is giving the following advice to any business that receives a cold-call looking for contributions for educational initiatives:

Any Highland business wishing to report anything suspicious or seeking to discuss these matters further can contact Highland Council Trading Standards at 38 Harbour Road, Inverness on trading.standards@highland.gov.uk or 01463 228716.

10 Dec 2013
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