We’ve been made aware of scammers selling shipping containers to unwitting customers. As of October 2018 these scams are currently active in the UK. We’ve been alerted to this by other container traders and unfortunately by customers who have fallen prey to these scammers.
Unlike the various Ponzi schemes such as that operated by the Hong Kong-registered company Pacific Tycoon, as reported in the Australian magazine Money Magazine, this latest scam is targeted solely at individuals who want to buy a shipping container for their own use.
The latest scam involved a company that was using the same name as Millington based (USA) Nationwide Containers. Whilst the .co.uk website was running as of the morning of October 24, 2018, a few hours later, it was classified as ‘unreachable or does not exist’.
This scam website was taking peoples money with no intention of delivering a shipping container. We are aware of one other site currently operating in the same way and to be frank as soon as one site gets closed down, a new one with a different name pops up a few weeks later. Its currently taking the authorities a few weeks to close each of these new scam websites down in which time a number of new people will get scammed.
Our research and that provided by customers who had been scammed revealed reviews left by frustrated customers on YELL regarding a pre-payment company that the scammers were using who are supposedly based in Swindon. If you use Google to search for this business, there are at least 3 links to the same website from other business names including the one cited by customers in the YELL review. Of course, we cannot substantiate or verify the legitimacy of these companies or those purported to own them.
Any evidence we have received regarding fraudulent operators and outright scam websites are immediately reported to the HMRC, action fraud and any relevant police authority, but we have also written this pot to try and hep prevent even one more person getting scammed when trying to buy a shipping container. If you have been scammed yourself please report it. Unfortunately it does take the first few people who have been stung to report it for the authorities to have any chance shutting the website down.double check You may have been done but you can help others by reporting any fraud as soon as possible.
We will also gratefully receive any information or evidence you have ourselves on anyone else who is scamming the public – any crime we are made aware of we will report and we will also circulate any suspicious activity within the industry to try and help scam sites get shut down sooner.
So, how can you avoid being scammed when buying a shipping container?
- Don’t let a good-looking websites draw you in. Recent scam websites have looked as professional as many legitimate traders websites.
- Check the registration number of the company or use the gov.uk website to check basic information about a company for free. Does it relate directly to that company? In the case of this scammer, the company number they used related to a company based in London. You can also use the beta version of companies house to search the register for a limited amount of information about a company. (Current scam sites are run by criminals with no registered company so they need to poach someone else’s company reg number for their invoice)
- Check their sort code. You can do this by simply entering the sort code into a search engine. For instance, the sort code 20-88-13 will return Barclays Bank Plc in Tunbridge Wells. If the sort code you enter doesn’t relate to any well known bank in the UK, be aware. In the case of the company reported above, the sort code they quoted in their invoice to a client who almost got scammed was 23-69-72. This was the sort code of a pre-payment solutions company (referred to in the YELL link). (NB some scam sites have been using reputable banks to receive payments so this should not be considered standalone proof)
- Check their VAT number. In the case of the above, they used our VAT number! (See below for links on how to check a VAT registration number)
- Call another container trader mention who you got the quote from and ask them to provide a quote and be cheeky, ask them if they’ve ever heard of ‘xyz’ company.
- No Company info showing on their website. Most legitimate companies list the registered company name, and possibly the company reg number and VAT number on their websites. As scammers don’t have a registered company and as we (legitimate operators) can get google to remove a company from their search results very easily if they are clearly spoofing a real companies info. If this info is not listed on the website its much easier for the scam site to stay live for longer.
- If you have evidence of any fraud, please call the ActionFraud Cyber Crime Reporting Centre on 0300 123 2040 or visit the ActionFraud website.
Scammers are getting increasingly sophisticated but, if you do some due diligence, you can hopefully avoid falling prey to scammers. Find out if they have any presence on social media and how far back their history extends. If it’s just a few weeks old, then they could be scammers.
Some other tips to help you avoid becoming a victim shipping container scammers or other types of scams. Whilst we’ve tried to provide ‘pointers’ based on our brief research, this is by no means extensive or ‘de-facto’.
Generally, our advice is that is there is any doubt in the back of your mind then DO NOT PAY until you’re sure your sending your money to a legitimate outfit.
Whilst we’d really love to name the two websites that were in operation recently, we are reluctant to do so.
Other ways to avoid scammers:
these are not guaranteed signs you are being scammed, but should be considered as potential indicators.
- Is the price quoted too good to be true? Quotes from legitimate traders will be very close to one another. Much lower prices are a good indicator that something is wrong.
- Is there an about us section? Does this section have a lot of content or history? Could it all be knocked up in a few hours by a scammer?
- Is the warranty they offer over 2-years? (we’ve seen scammers offering up to 10 year guarantees o used shipping containers, when legitimate outfits currently offer 6 months – 2 years max warranty)
- Is delivery free of charge?
- Do they list an address, can you check this out? Many scam sites recently have listed an address near a major port. Most of these you can check on Street View. If it’s not a building with a sign clearly showing the company name you expect to see then this should raise questions.
- Scam websites can quite commonly have real looking addresses, phone numbers and professional emails. Do not assume this all means a website is genuine.
- Do they answer the phone? some recent scam sites we’ve heard never answer the phone but they call you back immediately after leaving a message. Professional traders may occasionally miss a call when busy but will generally have a sales or customer services team ready to take your calls.
- More than likely they are spending money on Google ads as their website will not rank very well in organic search results. (new websites take time to get up to or even near page 1 of most search results, as scam websites are all new they often rely solely on google ads for clicks to their website)
- Do they have reviews from clients posted on their website? or on facebook, yell.com or any reviews site that you may regularly use?
- Do a google search for the company name. Have they put effort into listing themselves on popular directory websites (Yell.com, scoot and others) are there 5 pages of results showing listings elsewhere online or just their website and no other online presence?
- Are the reviews all perfect? have 50x 5 star reviews all landed on one day? in reality, no established reputable trader has had every job go perfectly. Mistakes and problems do happen and reading the bad reviews carefully to understand if the company made the problem good is a good indicator of a genuine company. Also generally you should expect to see a trickle of reviews over a long period of time, not a load of reciws all in a short space of time.
- Does the review include the name of the company that left the review?
- Is this company a legit business?
- Is the person you spoke to continually chasing you to place an order?
- Check their social media presence and profiles. were they all made 2 weeks ago, or have they been posting regularly for many years? Unfortunately the number of ‘likes’ a page has is not a good indicator. Plenty of legitimate operators anywhere between 50 and 5000 likes on their facebook page, whilst a scammer will likely pay someone to get themselves a couple of thousand likes before they start to help look legitimate.
- Stay protected. Can you pay £10 on credit card and the remainder via BACS? the retailer as well as the card company anre then jointly liable for the provision of goods meaning you can claim a full refund from the card company if the goods are not supplied. (please note paying on credit card via PayPal does not give you these rights). There is more background on this in a recent Money Saving Expert Article.
- Does it feel right. Our final piece of advice is probably the most important but hardest to define. If there is a voice in the back of your head telling you something’s wrong or that you’re not happy then listen to it! do some extra checks to make yourself sure or happy that the person you are dealing with is legitimate
Please note plenty of legitimate outfits will pay for fake Facebook likes and perhaps even reviews. The above tips are collated with our best understanding and knowledge at the time of writing and will be updated if we learn anything new. They should be considered good indicators but we cannot provide blanket guarantees for consumers.
As previously mentioned, call other container traders. We’d rather loose the business to a genuine competitor than hearing from someone who’s been scammed. After recent scam sits like these ones we are speaking to each other about how to try and help prevent this within the industry, but these solutions will take time to implement. In the meantime here are some resources to help with any checks on companies.
The container trade in the UK is a very small and incestuous industry and everyone knows everyone else. So, if you mention ‘xyz’ company and get told ‘we’ve never heard of them’, think twice and research more.
Budget Shipping Containers has been trading since 2011 and if mentioned our name to another trader we believe they would confirm we were legitimate.
Due to the value of a shipping container, an average of 80 sales per-annum would mean the company you are talking to would need to be registered for VAT. At the time of writing, the gov.uk website states that you must register for VAT if: your VAT taxable turnover is more than £85,000 (the ‘threshold’) in a 12-month period.
Check the VAT number on their invoice to you. Due to the value of shipping containers, any professional / legitimate container trading company has to be VAT registered. Their VAT number must legally show on their invoice to you. All scam sites recently have been issuing invoices with fake VAT numbers on their invoices in the knowledge that people rarely check them. You can check the VAT number for any UK or EU member state company here: http://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/vies/
Just enter the VAT number and the country of registration into the box and it will return whether or not the VAT number is valid, plus the company name and address info. If the VAT number does not exactly match the company you are buying from, look up the business that the VAT number belongs to and contact them direct. They will confirm if they are related or not. Please be aware if you do this you’ve probably just caught someone committing VAT fraud. You may like to report them to the HMRC VAT fraud hotline, ActionFraud or you may want to pass copies of your invoice to the legitimate owner of the VAT registration number so they can chase this up with the authorities.
Check their online reviews and history. Is there a roughly even spread of reviews over a long time, or is there a rush of 5-star reviews all left on the same day. On Facebook you can even click through and check out the profile of the person who left the review. Does it look like a real profile, are they based in the UK and able to leave a review for something they have purchased here? Have they left reviews for other products they have bought? How much effort has gone into their online ‘history’?
We don’t want members of the public to be drawn in by these scams so, please be sensible and never assume a low price is for real. On a sobering note it’s not just the general public who get scammed, container traders do to. See this Daily Mail news item about the fraudster Marcus Elliot who scammed container traders out of a reported to £250,000.00