Talk is cheap – until phone shop closes

A MOBILE phone shop has left customers who signed up to an attractive cashback deal hundreds of pounds out of pocket

Sanchez Manning

A MOBILE phone shop has left customers who signed up to an attractive cashback deal hundreds of pounds out of pocket.

Smart Tek, a mobile phone dealership at 328 Edgware Road, advertised deals offering customers a full refund for their phone bills after a specified period but has now gone out of business.

Lukman Ahmed, 33, signed up for one of Smart Tek's deals in June 2007 which offered cashback if he agreed to take on the costs of two mobile phones. He was promised that if he kept up with his bill payments, after each quarter of his 12-month contract he would receive a cheque for the same amount he had paid out.

But eight months later Mr Ahmed has not received a penny and last November the shop closed for business after five years of trading.

Mr Ahmed, who works for Marylebone Bangladeshi Society, said: "When I heard the shop had closed I called the police and trading standards, but they both said it was a matter for Ofcom.

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"I know of at least 12 other customers who have not got any money back and are struggling to pay their mobile phone bills because they are on low incomes. We are all owed about £800 each."

Abdul Kareem, 45, said: "I rented three lines from Smart Tek - one Vodafone and two T-Mobile. I was promised my money back after three months, then it went to six months and the next thing I knew the shop had closed down and I hadn't received anything.

He added: "The payment for the line rentals are still coming out of my bank by direct debit every month, but I only earn £90 a week so I'm really struggling to pay them now."

T-Mobile would not comment on individual cases but warned that cashback deals were often not the best option for mobile phone customers.

A spokesman said: "If these deals are done on a financially sound basis that is fine, but a minority of dealers are offering these cashbacks on an unsustainable basis and then go out of business. When this happens it is the operators who are left to pick up the pieces."

Sue Jones, head of Trading Standards at Westminster City Council, also advised customers to take cashback offers with a pinch of salt.

"As a general rule, and this is no reflection on this particular shop, I would advise consumers to be wary of these offers as the terms of redemption can be onerous and the cashback offered wholly unrealistic," she said.

In January Smart Tek was taken over by new management who contacted all those still owed money and promised to honour any outstanding payments.

But the letter from Mr A Patel also said that before customers were repaid they must provide a whole range of personal documents including a copy of the signature on their cash card, proof of employment in the form of their payslips or P60 and their passport details to prove their residency.

These demands only created further confusion among customers and raised concerns about possible fraud.

Nilufar Jahan, 39, who signed up for a one-year cashback contract, sent all the documentation Mr Patel requested. Two weeks on she has had no reply.

The Wood&Vale has also contacted Mr Patel for comment on a number of occasions but he has not responded.

Consumer organisations such as Which? have received a growing number of complaints from across the UK about cashback deals. Ofcom has now launched an investigation and the findings are due next month.

Anyone who has had problems with cashback offers should contact Westminster Council's Trading Standards on 020-7641 1111.