Belfast property broker fined for misleading claims and copyright infringements
A Newtownards property broker was today found guilty at Newtownards Magistrates’ Court of copyright infringements and misleading consumers by claiming that his company was actively selling properties each month when it had, in fact, sold none.
In a case brought by the Trading Standards Service of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Mr Steve Cummings of Motelands, Belfast, was fined a total of £1,000 for two offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs) and a further two charges under The Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Mr Cummings also had to pay court costs of £102. Mr Cummings is formerly a director of PC Media Solutions Ltd which traded as Emperial Property Brokers before being dissolved in June 2011.
The investigation arose following a complaint made to Consumerline. The complainant, an estate agent, alleged that Emperial Property Brokers, were advertising properties for sale on their website that did not actually exist and that they had also copied photographs and property descriptions from other prominent property sales websites, without obtaining permission from the licence holders i.e. the estate agents.
The complainant further alleged that the sellers of the properties that appeared on these websites were being cold-called by staff of Emperial Property Brokers and being promised that they would have a better chance of selling their property if they signed up with Emperial. In reality, Emperial Property Brokers did not have the client base that they professed to have, nor were they selling more properties than ever each month as claimed on their website. Emperial also claimed that they employed 30 brokers throughout Northern Ireland when this was not true.
Approximately 20 customers signed up to become clients of Emperial Property Brokers, paying £300 each. Two complainants contacted TSS stating that they would not have signed up with Emperial had they known the reality of the service they were getting. Both believed that the service being offered by Emperial was plausible and would lead to them getting their houses sold quickly.
Emperial Property Brokers also used descriptions and photographs of a substantial number of properties without the consent or knowledge of the copyright holder i.e. the individual estate agents that had taken the photos and devised the descriptions. These photographs and descriptions appeared on Emperial’s website to make it look like they were responsible for selling over 200 properties throughout Northern Ireland.
In fact, the majority of these properties were simply lifted from other websites and given new, fake addresses. Two estate agents gave statements to the Trading Standards Service indicating that they had no knowledge that their copyrighted works were being used in this way.
Kerry McAuley, Enforcement Officer, said: "The Trading Standards Service takes a very dim view of the sharp practice that has taken place here. Mr Cummings was well aware that this was not just a business venture that went wrong due to inexperience and ignorance of the housing market."
Mrs McAuley added: "Mr Cummings set out to deliberately mislead customers with a number of grossly misleading claims about the company’s capabilities as a property broker. Emperial used the bait of being able to sell their client’s house in a stagnant housing market to entice customers in but failed to provide any service after that."
Anyone consumer that believes they have been misled by a trader should contact Consumerline on 0300 123 6262 or log on to the Consumerline website at http://www.consumerline.org or the Northern Ireland Trading Standards Service Facebook page.
Notes to editors:
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Department of Enterprise, Trade & Investment
Belfast, BT4 2JP
Tel: 028 9052 9305 (ext: 29305)
Textphone: 028 9052 9304