Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below.
WE’RE WATCHING YOU
It makes a nice change to be able to report an effective intervention by the Financial Conduct Authority that has led to the apparent collapse of a suspicious investment company.
In May, the FCA issued a public warning that Finco Group Limited, based in Berkeley Square, London, was not authorised to offer investments to the general public. Finco then added a statement to its website, saying it would only deal with wealthy individuals or investors who were experienced enough to understand they could lose all their money, and this was enough to sidestep FCA regulations.
‘Generic’: The Cotswolds houses by a lake used on the Finco website
But did this make Finco any less suspicious? Hardly. The company is run by Catherine Lyall, 40, from Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, and her name is enough to ring alarm bells. She and her partner both figured in Tullett Brown Limited, a scam investment company that I warned against in 2012 and which was wound up by the High Court.
Lyall’s partner Daniel Nwikpo, who has also called himself Dan Fox and Dan Jones, was banned from acting as a company director for 14 years. Investigators from the Insolvency Service found that Tullett Brown, with Nwikpo as one of its bosses, had raked in £1.6million by selling near-worthless carbon credits with the tale that investors were ‘virtually guaranteed’ to make profits of at least 50 per cent.
Against this background, I looked at exactly what Finco was offering. It turned out to be loan notes yielding up to 12 per cent, effectively IOUs that Finco claimed were backed by property developers. Finco’s website displayed a pleasant picture of new houses built at the side of a rural lake, and it assured potential investors that Finco had notched up ‘over 100 developments, successfully completed’. Not bad for a company that is just one year old.
I traced the lakeside houses to a development at the Cotswold Water Park, so I asked Lyall what role her company played in this, and where are the other 100 developments located?
She told me she had forgotten her website existed: ‘I didn’t realise the website was still up,’ she said. ‘I have now asked for it to be taken down.’
Lyall added that while she did plan to invite investments, she had not gone ahead with the scheme.
She did not explain the false claims on her website except to say that ‘the marketing images used were generic’ and would have been replaced. Finally, she told me: ‘Finco Group has never traded and is in the process of being closed down.’
Mission accomplished, FCA.
Parcel heroes? They charged me £37 to return an undelivered gift
B.D. writes: I sent a parcel of gifts to friends in Spain on Parcelhero’s ‘next day’ service at a cost of £33. A courier collected the parcel and all the paperwork was provided by Parcelhero, including a customs invoice and manifest.
Next day, I checked with my friends but nothing had arrived. A few days later, the answer was the same. Tracking showed the parcel arrived in Valencia and stayed there.
Three weeks later, it arrived back in the UK and Parcelhero debited our account with a further charge of £37 for the privilege of having my parcel sent to Spain and back.
Round trip: B.D.’s parcel was returned from Spain three weeks after it was sent via Parcelhero
Tony Hetherington replies: You have told me that while your parcel was on its three-week break in Spain, more than 30 emails went back and forth between you and Parcelhero. Eventually, Parcelhero told you the delivery in Valencia had not gone ahead because you had provided the wrong telephone number for your friends.
Yet the paperwork you gave to Parcelhero – which I have seen – shows your friends’ correct address and telephone number.
It is possible this may have been garbled when the details were given to the local courier in Spain, but if this is what happened then you can hardly be held to blame. Charging you for the return of your parcel is just rubbing salt into the wound.
So what did go wrong? I asked Parcelhero but its response was rather vague. It told me: ‘We are sorry for the problems Mr D experienced with his shipment. We have examined the case and there was a problem with the accompanying invoice which meant the carrier was unable to complete the delivery once it arrived in Spain. Our support team resent the information, including the phone number of the receiver, but there were communication issues.’
Whatever the problem was with the invoice and the nature of the ‘communication issues’, the reason remains unexplained. But Parcelhero is refunding your £33 and the £37 extra it charged to return the parcel. However, I know you are irritated it describes this as ‘a gesture of goodwill’, as if Parcelhero is doing you a favour rather than just accepting it did not provide the next day service it promised, and I share your annoyance.
Smart meter can’t even give a reading
Mrs E.W. writes: I had a smart meter fitted, but because the system was down, the engineer said he was unable to complete the job and someone would come later.
Since then I have called more than once but nothing has happened.
Now Scottish Power wants a meter reading, which is impossible because their meter is still not working.
Tony Hetherington replies: Scottish Power refers to ‘smart meters’ and ‘dumb meters’, dumb being the earlier kind that has to be read. But it has no advice on what to do when your smart meter turns dumb, fails to transmit its own readings, and cannot even be read in the old-fashioned way by looking at its dials. Meanwhile, of course, Scottish Power has been collecting direct debits from your bank account without knowing whether or not you are in credit.
A spokesman told me Scottish Power has now apologised, adding: ‘Due to a connection error, the smart meter was not registered within our system’. An engineer has now visited you, connected the meter, and made sure readings are correct. Happily, your account is still in credit, and Scottish Power has sent £75 to say sorry for the inconvenience.
If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS or email [email protected] Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned.
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