The fraudsters who rely on the good name of others


These scammers rely on a familiar sounding name to flog their dodgy wares.

"Is that Mr Levene?," says a voice on a noisy line. , "Yes," I respond, but before I have a chance to ask who it is, she tells me she is "Leila from PWC."

There is a PWC I know – PricewaterhouseCoopers – which is one of the biggest accountancy firms in the world. It's part of the top four globally. And as a financial journalist, I have spoken to this firm a number of times, about things like taxation and international management.

I was not, however, expecting a call. And even if I was, this did not make sense. I don't know a Leila there, nor is it likely that PWC will be cold-calling. Legitimate accountants don't phone out of the blue – in any case, PWC is hardly interested in me and I can't afford their City-style fees anyway. It definitely won't be pitching for my next self-assessment form.

So it wasn't the real PWC but some other organisation with the same initials – although I don't know any.

Who, what, where, why?
At this stage of a call from someone unknown, I would normally ask a series of who, what, why and how did you get my details questions. I can't as Leila launches into a number of probes of her own.

She wants to know how my investments are doing, if my ISAs are succesful, and whether I am "satisfied with my portfolio".

These questions are normal for cold-callers offering all sorts of catchpenny investments – if answered properly (I just mumble OK) they give the phone person lots of information such as my attitude to risk, what sort of assets I already own and how much I might be worth. All clues as to how much they might get out of me. After all, there is no point wasting time on someone who has no money.

But while she goes through this routine – they need to take control of the conversation – I keep thinking of what PWC this might be. Finally, as she stops to take breath, I manage to ask who or what is PWC.

Who is this PWC?
Now it was her turn to mumble. I'm still not sure exactly what PWC stands for but it seems that the W is for wine. And – I am sure this is not right because I can't find it – the P stood for Parisian and the C for collection. So it sounded like Parisian Wine Collection or Consortium or Council but it wasn't as firms of those names do not exist anywhere.

Leila claimed that I should know all about it as I had been sent a brochure already. Not true. Investment cold callers have literature and websites but they never post anything the first time around – that means they have an excuse to call again to see if it has arrived.

So I am being sold wine by a firm that comes across with the name of a world-class accountancy firm, which, of course, has no idea that its identity has been appropriated.

Here come the lies
She then launches into a whole series of questions including "Did you know you can invest in wine and make a fortune?" and "Are you liquid (no pun intended!) for £10,000" before giving me a course on wine. I was told all about how wines are classified – this was basic, but fine as far as it went – and how much wines had risen over the past five years.

This latter point, assuming it was true, hardly means the price will continue to rise. If anything, any asset that has increased in price for so many years is likely to fall.

Now, as regular readers know, I have heard this all before – many times. And right on cue, Leila tells me about the "massive demand in China" as newly rich Chinese spend very high sums on top wines to impress their friends and colleagues.

The fact is that this is not true. The Chinese pulled out of the Bordeaux fine wine market in 2011 with some bottles falling 40% from one sale to the next. The Chinese economy went into slowdown (at least by previous growth standards) and the Chinese themselves discovered that they did not need to spend silly amounts on overvalued wines.

Leila droned on, reading from a script. But it was only when she got to the bit about the Chinese diluting their £1,000 bottle of wine with Coca-Cola – all my wine cold-callers include that to prove that they have so much money they can always afford more - that I am afraid I got a fit of laughter.

This is nonsense. It insults the Chinese. It's almost certainly an urban legend. But even if someone in China did pour a can of Coke into a bottle of red wine, then the wine was a £5 bottle and this was some sort of joke. The Chinese are not stupid.

Oh dear. Leila took umbrage at my laughing. "What's funny?" she asked. "You and this call," I replied with more honesty than I had previously shown.

And then Leila put the phone down on me.

Revealed: The 10 most common scams

Revealed: The 10 most common scams

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