Some time back we wrote an article titled, "Beware of Mortgage Broker Scams" after receiving numerous telemarketing phone calls from an offshore call center. After receiving the first half-dozen calls I assumed they were associated with an offshore identify fraud operation or scam involving theft. The caller claimed that they were from Astute Financial or Nexus Money (a Credit Licence Representative of Astute), yet both very reputable organisations gave me assurances they had no connection with the marketing campaign... and they've both published security notices on their website disassociating themselves from the activity. Both organisations have gone to great lengths to identify the origin of the phone calls, and they've both involved the Australian Federal Police and other industry bodies responsible for investigating fraud.
In the previous article I wrote, "... while I didn't have the time to follow the process to completion, there is a chance - however slight - that the calls are actually attached to a grossly unethical and local broker agency." So, in the interests of closure, and tracing the source of the fraudulent activity, I followed a couple of phone calls through to completion. It turns out that the calls are actually part of a 'legitimate' business operated by a Sydney-based mortgage broker by the name of Chris Brown, operating as New Vision Financial Pty Limited (and trading as Marketing4You).
Through the New Delhi-based call center I arranged to meet a broker not far from where I live. Rigged up with cameras and recording devices I genuinely expected to be met by another individual whose purpose was to facilitate an identify fraud. To my complete surprise, I met with a knowledgeable and very legitimate Homebush-based Chinese broker that presented various borrowing options (as one would expect from any accomplished mortgage professional). When asked the question about the two companies the telemarketing company claimed to represent the broker had no idea what I was talking about.
I spoke with Chris Brown from New Vision a few times - first impersonating a potential customer, and later identifying myself, my true purpose for the call, and asking for comment on the matter. In early conversations it was clear that Chris understood the nature of the marketing, telling me that the telemarketers would "hassle the shit" out of people, but I genuinely don't believe he had knowledge of the criminality that took place with relation to the violation of Australian Telemarketing Laws (Do Not Call register, hours of operation, claiming to be another company, etc.). He claimed that mortgage brokers that subscribed to his methods would prepare their own script during the on-board process, and it was this script that would be use when contacting his telemarketing register. I suspect that the offshore operation used an established and generic company name (Astute and Nexus) as a placeholder (despite having no affiliation whatsoever) in order to cast a wider net - in this way only one call would be made in order to represent any participating business.
Despite owning a share in the offshore business it's important to acknowledge that Chris vigorously denied any knowledge of any criminal conduct that might have taken place. Given the physical distance separating him from his business venture, and typical Indian call practices, it would be difficult for Chris to maintain any effective oversight of his operation, and he was likely the victim of a fraud himself. In order to preserve his good reputation and existing business interests he told us that the calls will cease immediately. So, in the end, a legitimate service was actually delivered to the end-client... although the methods used to generate the leads violated numerous aspects of Australian law.
From a marketing perspective, the message is clear: leads are only of any use if they're obtained ethically and responsibly. Not unlike those that subscribed to Chris' product with the expectation their investment wouldn't finance an operation that tickled the thin blue line, the proliferation of 'Internet Marketers' has created an army of charlatans that deliver a service expectation that - while difficult to prove - they're completely ill-equipped to provide.
We've passed the information onto Astute Financial and expect that they'll pursue the matter in a manner they consider appropriate. It wouldn't be unreasonable to assume both organisations might seek serious compensation for the brand damage and countless days devoted to crisis management.
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Update, 30th July, 2018 12.30pm: By chance I received yet another phone call (yes, I recorded it) from the same offshore company now claiming to represent Financial Group - sending me to a website that isn't even registered (financialgroup.com.au). If these telemarketing calls do continue, and Chris chooses to remains involved, it's important that he take ownership of the operation and lends his brand or an established company so as to provide genuine bona fides.
Update, 30th July 2018 4pm: Chris Brown of New Vision Financial has cancelled his arrangement with the New Delhi-based call centre. It's quite possible that his intervention has resulted in the new (yet fraudulent) name of Financial Group making its way into the call centre script (for which he no control). Chris has issued an apology on his website . I'm hoping the extremely good name of Astute Financial and Nexus Money won't be tarnished any further by these nuisance calls.
Update, 31st July, 2018: The New Delhi-based company engaging in illegal practices is Buy My Leads (BuyMyLeads.net). Don't even consider using their services.