Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Scandal of Salesmen Conning Thousands over Energy Deals

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Scandal of Salesmen Conning Thousands over Energy Deals

Article excerpt

Byline: ADAM BLENFORD

THE HOME energy branch of the Virgin group has sacked dozens of rogue sales staff after admitting that thousands of residents may have been conned into buying services with fraudulent hardsell tactics.

The company has agreed to a compensation deal for customers, who were misled into signing power agreements by sales reps attempting to boost their commission.

In the Enfield area alone, 14 sales staff at Virgin Home Energy have been sacked after an inquiry suggested that up to 4,000 homeowners may have been duped.

On Tuesday, the company's customer-care director Simon Carter attended a meeting with residents at a school where he offered a pound sterling50 payment to anybody who had been affected.

The company, owned by London Electricity, admitted that sales staff had breached Trading Standards rules.

A week ago, Sir Richard Branson, who has a 25 per cent interest in Virgin Home Energy, gave the company a month to clean up its act or lose the right to use the Virgin name. Virgin executives fear the move into the energy market is severely tarnishing the group's brand reputation.

Incentives used to secure signatures of customers included offers of free Virgin services such as record vouchers, mobile phones or travel.

In addition, some sales staff carried out cold calls and scoured electoral lists and telephone directories to forge signatures of people, including some who had recently died.

Cold calling is where sales staff, usually working only for a commission on goods they sell, persistently call customers.

Typically, they call at weekends and in the evenings, and are trained not to take no for an answer.

Among the worst offenders are people trying to sell double glazing, kitchens or insurance that customers do not need.

Sometimes the sales reps can be extraordinarily aggressive.

In a recent case, a salesman working from a telephone call centre was taken to court after subjecting an elderly man to a barrage of abusive telephone calls because he refused to sign up for an insurance package. …

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