A couple who ran an online plumbing services scam have each been sentenced to six months imprisonment (suspended for 12 months) and ordered to carry out 80 hours unpaid work.
The sentences, handed down on 10 June 2020, follow a hearing at Harrow Crown Court on 10 January 2020, where the pair pleaded guilty to fraudulent trading contrary to Section 993 of the Companies Act 2006.
Between July 2017 and October 2018 Paul Plummer (46) and Katie Marfleet (29), both of Orchard Grove, Orpington, Kent operated ‘Plumbing Group Ltd’ which offered 24/7 plumbing and drainage services. The company name was later changed to the Gekko Group Ltd.
Customers searching for a local plumber on the internet would be directed to a website operated by Plummer and Marfleet, which had been promoted with online advertising to target local areas using search engine adverts. The websites were professional-looking, misleading and made some claims that were plainly untrue, enticing the customer to use their service as opposed to other plumbing businesses.
Customer bookings were only confirmed once payment details had been obtained from the customer, along with a return email confirming that the customer was satisfied with the rates which had apparently been discussed on the phone. This process meant that the customer lost all control of the money to be taken out of their account.
The National Trading Standards eCrime Team, which is hosted by North Yorkshire County Council and City of York Council, launched an investigation after receiving more than 30 complaints of overcharging and payment irregularities. Complaints included:
A Plumbing Group plumber spent just 15 minutes at one property but the customer was charged £135.
One victim discovered his card has been charged £295 for a 20 minute plumbing job.
A 100-year-old victim was charged £195 despite having to make alternative plumbing arrangements when the Plumbing Group plumber turned up too late.
Evidence, including mobile phones, a laptop and card machine seized from the couple’s home uncovered the extent of the fraud, with the pair extorting more than £9,000 from their victims over a 15-month period.
When the customers sought some form of redress from whatever the complaint might have been, they most commonly received no replies to the complaint or, if they did receive one, were told that the complaint was unfounded.
Alongside the sentences, the judge confiscated £5976 which will be compensated to victims who have not been refunded.
Lord Toby Harris, Chair of National Trading Standards, said:
“This scam saw the pair extort considerable sums of money from consumers, deceiving victims by masquerading as a local business online before charging higher costs for sub-standard or unnecessary work. This case highlights that crime does not pay – criminal fraudsters will be investigated by our teams and prosecuted.”
Councillor Andrew Lee of North Yorkshire County Council said:
“This pair targeted and defrauded their victims out of money they could not afford to lose. But thanks to work of the National Trading Standards eCrime Team they have finally been caught and stopped.”
Councillor Andrew Waller, Executive Member with portfolio for public protection and Trading Standards at City of York Council, said:
“Consumers deserve to have confidence in the tradespeople they hire. This case shows that those who overcharge or exploit customers in this way will be brought to justice by our investigative team.”
Notes to Editors
About National Trading Standards
National Trading Standards delivers national and regional consumer protection enforcement. Its Board is made up of senior and experienced heads of local government trading standards from around England and Wales with an independent Chair. Its purpose is to protect consumers and safeguard legitimate businesses by tackling serious national and regional consumer protection issues and organised criminality.