A mother and son who ran a company that fraudulently serviced Dyson vacuums have been sentenced at Leeds Crown Court today (25 September) for a total ten years for conspiracy to defraud following an investigation by National Trading Standards.
Thomas Scoffin (aged 31 from Park Avenue, Leeds) was the sole director of Leeds-based Excel Servicing Ltd and has been sentenced to seven years imprisonment. His mother Linda Scoffin (aged 61 from Hall Drive, Lincoln) who helped him run the business, has been sentenced to three years in prison.
The judge said that the fraud was so serious that it required a custodial sentence. There were also disqualified from being company directors: Tom for eight years, Linda for six years.
Following complaints against their firm, the National Trading Standards Yorkshire & Humber Regional Investigations team based at City of York Council took 34 witness statements from 24 February 2014 to 30 May 2015. They found that the Scoffins’ company defrauded customers – many of whom were elderly or vulnerable – by falsely claiming to represent Dyson and then conducting unnecessary servicing on their Dyson vacuum cleaners.
The company cold-called members of the public from across the north of England and told them their Dyson vacuum cleaners required a service. Customers were misled to believe Excel Servicing represented Dyson, with some being told Dyson had contracted out their servicing to Excel.
Despite their claim that Dyson vacuum cleaners required servicing, this is not the case which was confirmed by Dyson Ltd itself. When company representatives visited customers they carried out unnecessary ‘servicing’ and, in some cases, actually damaged the vacuum cleaners and voided customers’ Dyson warranties.
Customers were often charged between £50 and £200 to service the cleaners, and charged £40 for a new filter which were, in fact, worth between £2 and £5.
While ‘servicing’ victims’ Dyson cleaners, Excel Servicing staff used pressure-sales tactics to persuade them to buy another brand of vacuum cleaner. The new cleaners – which are designed for industrial use – were sold for between £500 and £2,000 and were often too heavy for the customers to whom they were sold.
The investigators found that Linda Scoffin also ran her own business, KB Midlands Limited, from Lincoln. It supplied and sold Kirby cleaners, and also emailed instructions to Excel Servicing. KB Midlands Limited supplied Kirby cleaners to Excel Servicing.
£1.5 million was received into the Excel Servicing business account for the period of the investigation and payments were made – sometimes through a finance company – to buy Kirby vacuum cleaners.
The investigators also found that the couple paid for numerous foreign holidays from money made by Excel Servicing, while Tom Scoffin spent in bars, restaurants and casinos. During the period of investigation, he was found to have withdrawn £17,000 in cash, and the business bank account for Excel Servicing was used to buy international flights.
Despite this spending, Excel Servicing declared a loss to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs during this period and paid no Corporation Tax.
Both now face confiscation proceedings under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
Lord Toby Harris, Chair of National Trading Standards, said:
“These individuals preyed on elderly and vulnerable people, exploiting their trust and defrauding them. I would like to thank all involved in bringing these criminals to justice – these sentences send a strong signal that National Trading Standards will not hesitate to prosecute those attempting to defraud consumers.
“If you think you or someone you know may have fallen victim to a fraudulent business then I would urge you to contact the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 03454 04 05 06.”
Councillor Ann Reid, interim executive member with responsibility for Trading Standards at City of York Council, said:
“This tenacious investigation is to be congratulated: it has revealed a disgraceful fraud against vulnerable people and has brought those responsible to justice. I hope this sentence goes someway to reassuring the victims of this fraud and helps restore consumer confidence in legitimate businesses.”
Colin Rumford from the National Trading Standards Yorkshire and Humber Regional Investigations Team said:
“Being aware of consumer rights, not settling for spurious assurances and reporting concerns to Trading Standards is the right thing for people to do: this case proves that. I’m delighted with this team’s work and its outcome.”