Kicking companies when they're down; Dodgy debt collectors hit firms already with money trouble.
MY piece a couple of weeks ago about debt collectors who rip off their own customers struck a painful chord.
I've since heard from three businesses who paid a firm to chase money they were owed and none of them got a penny.
Harper Cross Associates claims to be "one of the UK's most recommended debt collection, bailiff company and legal services firms".
It also claims to be registered with the Financial Conduct Authority, and that's rubbish too.
What's more, this supposed debt collection business is itself deep in debt - it has notched up nine unpaid County Court Judgments ranging from just under PS1,000 to more than PS10,000.
One unfortunate customer is Steve Dunn, who runs a skip hire business in Matlock, Derbyshire, and wanted to chase PS20,000 he was owed.
"Harper Cross said they'd done a search and found that this guy who owned the money had assets," he said. "They claimed that they could locate him and he would pay up rather than risk going to court."
So Steve paid PS500 plus VAT - but has got back nothing, not even updates on his case.
"I'd already had some bad business luck and then people like this hit you for more money," he said.
The sole director of Harper Cross is 36-year-old Richard Coates, who has lived at various addresses across the North East.
Steve Dunn says he's welcome to pay off the debt working in his skip yard, and has erected a sign telling him: "There's plenty of rubbish, you'll fit in well."
Another victim of this shower is Bernice Saltzer, who runs a PR firm in Newcastle. She paid PS400.
"Harper Cross approached me about a debt of PS2,500 owed to my business by a company which went bust," she said.
"They said they could chase the director and, stupidly, I agreed." After getting nothing she tried to trace Harper Cross, without success: "The address they have registered at Companies House is near my office and I went there, but it's just serviced offices and they have moved out."
Harper Cross did succeed in recovering the trade debt of around PS8,000 owed to Clare Ashbrook's Derbyshire building supply business - but did not forward the money.
"When I'd ring they'd say things like the person dealing with my case wasn't in the office," Clare said.
"Once the girl who answered said there's no one else in the office, but I could hear people laughing in the background."
Clare contacted the company responsible for the original debt, which said it paid on the day it heard from Harper Cross, and sent a bank statement as proof.
"I went back to Harper Cross and said I wanted payment but they denied getting Clare said.
"Then they said they would not pay me for six months, in case the money was reclaimed by the debtor.
"When the six months was up we could no longer get hold of them."
Her finance manager Sue Watts added: "I dread to think how much time I spent call ing and emailing this company. It was obvious we were being fobbed off."
Harper Cross has stopped answering its phones and was due to be put into compulsory liquidation month, until the was suspended.
My efforts to reach the company came to nothing, which means I cannot ask Richard Coates to comment on Clare's verdict on him: "A horrible, horrible man."
She says of his business model: "It's so cruel."
PS: Coates is also a director of Aegis Investigations Ltd and HCA Investigations Ltd. Thought should know.
They said they couldn't pay me for 6 months then disappeared
SIGN LANGUAGE Steve Dunn's cheeky notice after he was ripped off