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SALLY SORTS IT: Crooks cloned my registration and left me on the hook for £312 of charges

I have a van I use for my small children’s entertainment business, which I drive a couple of times a month.

As I live in the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) area in London, I have to pay £12.50 every time I use the vehicle.

For this reason, I set up an autopay arrangement, so I don’t forget.

When I checked my statement recently, I was astounded to see a total of £362.50 had been deducted from my account.

Our reader submitted evidence to TfL to dispute the charges, which will now be refunded

I am certain someone has cloned my registration plates. I have a smart doorbell, and photographic evidence to show my vehicle is outside my house — even at exact times the cloned vehicle was photographed.

The photos of the vehicle that Transport for London have sent me show a similar vehicle but it has distinguishing features, including a red sticker on the rear driver’s door and indentations on the rear passenger door.

I have submitted all this evidence to TfL to dispute the charges but just get a generic response saying ‘not enough evidence’.

I am at my wits’ end. This is taking up so much of my time, but the bill is ringing up every day.

N. B., London.

Sally Hamilton replies: It’s certainly not been child’s play trying to unravel the charges racked up by a crook posing as you in a similar motor.

You’d been driven round the bend by TfL, which kept rejecting your evidence, even though this included photos taken by its own cameras revealing the imposter driver, who is white, stocky and male. You told me you are Asian, short and female. It would be funny if it wasn’t such a serious issue.

I’m sorry to say you are not alone.

SCAM WATCH 

Beware scammers posing as delivery giant UPS. Action Fraud has received nearly 1,700 reports in one week about fake emails which claim the recipient has missed a delivery and that a parcel is waiting for them.

They include a link which directs anyone who clicks on it to a fraudulent website designed to steal their personal details.

Banks and organisations like UPS will never ask you to share this kind of information over email or text.

If you receive a suspicious email, forward it to report@phishing.gov.uk.

The numbers of car copycats are accelerating as criminals seek to avoid charges and fill up with fuel without paying, using disguised motors to throw the authorities off the scent.

The cheats tend to either steal genuine plates or order copies online from unauthorised suppliers and attach them to the same model and colour of car. They then merrily drive around and park where they want without fear of penalties — unless in the rare event police catch them in the act.

This leaves innocent drivers such as you wasting time and energy battling to appeal fees and penalties or trying to clear their name.

I stepped in and asked TfL to investigate your case. A few days later, you were contacted by the organisation directly and told that it now accepts your vehicle has been cloned. Hurrah!

It also rang me to say your disputed charges will be refunded. I estimate this will be at least £312, but it was unable to immediately confirm the sum.

Anyone in the same predicament should always report incidents to the police and log the issued reference number with the DVLA.

Drivers should take photos of their car so that differences can be compared to copycat vehicles.

It is important not to pay erroneous charges and to contact the issuing authorities straight away.

Simon Williams, at motoring company RAC, says car cloning is a modern-day menace and fears it will only get worse because the ULEZ area is expanding.

He says: ‘This will mean cameras will no doubt detect more number plates of non-compliant cloned vehicles. And, with new clean air zones appearing in other cities around England even more drivers are likely to get the unpleasant surprise of discovering their number plate is being used illegally on another vehicle.’

Why doesn’t Buyagift let me redeem my vouchers?

Last December, I spent £160 on two Time Together vouchers from website Buyagift as Christmas presents for my husband and my son and his wife.

We have tried to redeem them on more than ten experiences but without success because there was no availability.

Some of the following reasons were given: ‘This experience is no longer available’ (despite being listed in the scheme booklet) and ‘the restaurant has had a fire and is closed’.

Three hotels said they would accept them but not until after December this year. The most recent one we tried explained that demand was so high post-Covid that she had enough bookings from full-price customers. Where does this leave us?

I’ve tried contacting Buyagift but to no avail. There is no contact telephone number or email address. There is just a chat line which keeps logging off.

S. C., Lincoln.

Our reader tried to redeem some vouchers from Buyagift on more than ten experiences

Our reader tried to redeem some vouchers from Buyagift on more than ten experiences

Vouchers make the ideal gift for that ‘hard to buy for’ person or where the recipient needs to decide the date of a trip or outing. 

You chose the Time Together option so you and your husband could enjoy a hotel experience with your son and daughter-in-law at a time and place of your choice from the menu on offer in the booklet.

It’s not surprising you had a sense of humour failure after repeated attempts to book.

Online complaints service Resolver says it has been flooded with complaints about these kinds of voucher schemes, with nearly 2,000 in the first quarter of 2022.

Consumer expert Martyn James, says: ‘Complaints tend to be not being able to redeem the vouchers or get refunds from them — and issues about the restrictions with the deals themselves.’

Fortunately, I managed to get hold of a helpful Buyagift employee who tracked down a colleague who could investigate your complaint.

A day later the firm responded. The post-Covid booking bounce appears to have piled on the pressure. The Buyagift spokesman explains: ‘Due to the demand after the pandemic and customers now using their vouchers, we do have a surge in booking activity with a backlog of unused vouchers all trying to book in an experience.

‘We are working with our suppliers to arrange more availability for our customers.’

He confirmed that some of the booklets included in the boxes sent to buyers contained out-of-date information about the partners involved, and said this was being rectified by directing customers online for more accurate lists.

You have now been refunded and as a goodwill gesture have been given £100 of vouchers to spend on a future booking.

  • Write to Sally Hamilton at Sally Sorts It, Money Mail, Northcliffe House, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT or email sally@dailymail.co.uk — include phone number, address and a note addressed to the offending organisation giving them permission to talk to Sally Hamilton. Please do not send original documents as we cannot take responsibility for them. No legal responsibility can be accepted by the Daily Mail for answers given. 

STRAIGHT TO THE POINT 

I asked BT to add a new iPhone to our account, then our landline stopped working. My husband and I are elderly and our doctor only has this number. Despite complaining, the issue hasn’t been resolved.

S. S., County Durham.

BT apologises for the disruption to your home phone service. It is working to restore your number and has provided a dedicated point of contact for help in the future.

MY husband and I have reached a deadlock with More Than’s home insurance team over a broken electronic gate at our property. I first submitted a claim in January, but am yet to be told if the insurer will pay out.

V. D., Otford

The insurer sent an inspector to your home two days after I got in touch, but says the damage is not covered because it was caused by wear and tear. A spokesman apologises for the delay and has paid you £200 in compensation.

After returning two hearing aids to Hearmore UK in April, I am still waiting for a £3,200 refund. Whenever I call, staff tell me to send an email, but as I am partially sighted this is not ideal.

N. A., Atherton

Hearmore says it had instructed its finance team, which was outsourced to a third party, to refund you but admits staff sat on this request. The firm has since brought its finance department in-house. The money has now been refunded to your account.

I moved my current account from NatWest to HSBC because it was offering a £175 switching bonus. But I was told I’d not receive the money as I’d not made the change in time. A few days later the bank launched a new £170 switching offer. I feel let down and cheated.

R. N., Nantwich.

HSBC says that it is sorry you missed the deadline but maintains it was clearly advertised. A spokesman says it cannot make an exception as it must be fair to all customers.

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