In a land of wolves and thieves

During the past couple of months I have republished a selection of my newspaper articles written while I was working as an investigative journalist in Scotland and North East England. The first looked at the likely governmental conspiracy over the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in 2001 another at the secrecy of the Bilderberg organisation, a third was a piece about the top secret Aurora aircraft, the fourth looked at big cats at large in the UK and the fifth was an investigation into the mysterious death of Scottish Nationalist leader Willie McRae. Another looked at the extent of 40-year cover-up on exposure of British servicemen to A-bomb tests and the last was a piece about secret dumps of deadly Sarin gas in the sea waters off Scotland. And the last one investigated very strange links between BNFL at Sellafield and genetic research into human embryos.
I now turn to something a little more mundane but something that probably many more readers… mailshot scams! This one was UK based, but I know from experience that many operate out of Canada and the Netherlands. This was published in 2001.

AN international scam that rips off thousands of householders every year is operating from a location on Tyneside.
A Chronicle investigation has found that Lunor Marketing International (LMI), which runs a string of bogus get-rich-quick schemes, is using a South Tyneside firm to handle its mail.
It is also hiding behind a PO Box number, which the Chronicle has traced to a flat on Newcastle’s Quayside.
LMI, which also trades as the National Fulfilment Centre and is believed to be a Brazilian firm, targets British consumers – often pensioners – with its mailshot scams.
Cleverly-worded letters are sent to homes across the country promising the recipients that in return for a “processing fee” of between £10 and £20, they are in with a chance of winning up to £20,000.
But unsuspecting consumers tempted by the too-good-to-be-true offers are unlikely to ever be sent a big money prize. All they are ever likely to receive is a piece of worthless, cheap jewellery.
Pensioner Frank Perkins, 70, of Cramlington, is one of many victims. He sent £20 to the National Fulfilment Centre, registered at the Newcastle PO Box address, and waited for his cash windfall. All he got was two cheap necklaces.
Mr Perkins said: “The stones in the necklace are the size of a pinhead and aren’t worth much. I get at least two of these types of letters every day from all over the world, but I thought this one was genuine because it had a local address.
“They should be stopped. The Government, or somebody, should do something.”
Although LMI has been blasted by trading standards officers across the country and rapped by the Advertising Standards Authority, consumer protection agencies and the Government are unable to take action as the firm is based abroad.
The Chronicle discovered there is a London office of LMI, run by a man called Tom Alvarez, but he is a difficult man to get to speak to.
Instead, LMI uses an Essex mailing company – Direct Solutions International (DSI) – which runs an office in Jarrow’s Viking industrial park on behalf of LMI and other companies.
DSI also has a string of high-profile clients, including Northern Electric, Help the Aged and Comic Relief.
John Merrett, assistant director of the UK’s Commercial Crime Bureau, confirmed such scams are often based abroad: “These people often target high-profile companies as middle-men because it makes their operation appear more credible.”
When the Chronicle contacted Mike Thomas, DSI group general manager at Jarrow, he said to have “absolutely no idea” about what LMI was doing.
A former employee of DSI at Jarrow claimed he was unhappy with the type of work he had to do and left his job.
The man, who asked not to be named, was one of a team of people employed to open LMI’s post – directed to Jarrow via a number of PO Box addresses – collect the cash and despatch the tacky prizes.
He believed unsuspecting householders, mainly the elderly, are duped out of thousands of pounds every year by companies such as LMI.
“A lot of the replies I dealt with were from old people,” he said. “Some of their stories were so sad. They’d write that they were pensioners on so much a week and they thought they’d won all this money.
“In the entire time I was handling LMI mail I wasn’t aware of anyone winning a big cash prize.”
Dave O’Brien, trading standards manager in Newcastle, warned people not to send any money off.
He said: “They are very common scams and people should just ignore them – put the letters in the bin and keep your money.”
Richard White, a trading standards officer in the London borough of Havering, which covers Rainham, in Essex, where DSI’s head office is based, said mailshots are not illegal, but described them as being ‘despicable’ and said they should be banned.
DSI defended its involvement with LMI, saying while it was not responsible for the mailshot contents, it did aim to ensure they met industry codes of practice. A spokesman said: “LMI has guaranteed repayment of any money submitted by consumers subsequently disappointed and we’re working with them, as our client, to ensure this promise is fulfilled.”

Brief Encounter #8

supermacMalcolm MacDonald

I ENJOYED three brief encounters with the legendary Supermac, the first separated from the last by a mere 35 years!

The first time I met the former England star was in 1970. I was 14 years-old and the free scoring Malcolm Macdonald just six years older than me and turning heads with his robust play and 49 goals for second tier side Luton Town.

He had yet to acquire the moniker Supermac, but was definitely a legend in the making when he agreed to kick off a local charity football match… a game also graced by Radio 1 stars Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart and Diddy David Hamilton. Along with many other young teenage boys I queued in line to ask for his autograph. The immensely polite Macdonald signed every autograph request with a smile and chirpy word.

Over the ensuing years the bustling forward went on to score a further 137 goals for Arsenal and Newcastle United, where he became a true Tyneside legend. On 16th April 1975, in a game for England against Cyprus he scored all five goals in a 5–0 victory, a record that still stands today, spawning a newspaper headline: SuperMac 5 Cyprus 0. In total he played 14 times for his country, scoring six times.

When I next met him, it was by chance in 1997, some nine years after he retired from a football, following an eight year stint in club management.

It was lunchtime on a cold and wet November day and I was queuing for a sandwich in a café just off Newcastle’s Groat Market. The guy in front of me seemed to be taking his time ordering a coffee and a roll. As he turned I instantly recognised the man I had met all those years ago. But for the grey hair, spectacles and ageing face the voice was the same… it was Supermac.

He smiled and politely apologised for taking so long and then sat down at a window seat to eat his lunch and read the local evening newspaper.

The final time we met was a complete shock… out of time and out of place.

It was 2004 and again a cold and grey November day. My wife and I were manning a car boot sale stall at Hexham Cattle Market. We had a pile of personal flotsam and jetsam we were trying to sell, including ornaments, toys, books and DVDs.

An hour into the sale a man, dressed in a light brown sheepskin coat was standing at our stall with a young boy looking through the DVDs. He picked one up and asked me: “How much is this?” He looked at me and smiled and I again realised it was Supermac. I was about to reply when a passing stranger hailed him: “Whey aye how are you doing Mac?”

“Hello, John,” was his reply.

Macdonald and the boy turned to talk to the stranger and my opportunity to sell him a book and a DVD on fly fishing was lost.