Elderly people had their ‘wallets raided’ by Peterborough cold-callers who sold them vitamins and food supplements at ten times High Street prices, a jury heard
Vulnerable victims were allegedly subjected to high-pressure sales techniques over the telephone by staff working for ‘House of Naturecare’ and ‘Nutri Care Quest’.
Two men - Fredy Fernandes, (44), and Salvador Rodrigues, also (44), both of Lincoln Road, Peterborough, are on trial at St Albans crown court in a case brought by Hertfordshire Trading Standards
Both deny fraudulent trading by House of Naturecare and Nutri Care Quest between 1 December 2015 and 30 September 2016.
Fernandes also denies converting £111,352 of criminal property and acquiring £15,590 criminal property.
Rodrigues denies converting £238,495 of criminal property and acquiring £10,060 of criminal property.
In defence case statements the defendants say they were innocent, having been brought in by others in India to run the business.
Prosecutor Andrew Johnson told the jury of seven men and five women: “This case is about the defrauding of some of the most vulnerable members of society, playing on fears as to their health in order to raid their wallets.
“It is about the elderly and infirm being sold vitamins and other food and dietary supplements, that they did not need, at grossly excessive prices, using high-pressured sales techniques.”
One 80-year-old widow was charged £399 by House of Naturecare for a box of 14 vitamins in January or February last year. She received a further call in March paying £197.83 for 13 bottles of vitamins to Nutri Care Quest. In May she received another call from a representative who “would not take no for an answer.”
An 84-year-old said: “Although I tried to tell them that I didn’t want them, the sales person was very persuasive and I finally gave in and agreed to pay them.” He paid £389.99 on February 5 last year and in late March or early April paid another £147.
The prosecutor said the jury would hear how other people or their families complained about the companies.
An investigation was launched. In one month, January 2016, customers at House of Naturecare paid a total of £69,192 for goods the company had obtained for just £3,632. They were sold for over nineteen-times their cost.
71 of the items sold were compared with high street pricing. The closest to high street prices was still four times more expensive from House of Naturecare. The majority were more than 10 times more expensive, said Mr Johnson.
An analysis of Nutri Care Quest customers for the second half of April last year showed that customers were charged £16,762 for goods which the company had paid £1,620 - over ten times the cost price. Comparing 57 items with the high street pricing it was found the closest in price was four times more expensive, but the majority were again ten times more expensive.
Mr Johnson said: “The crown say that those figures alone make quite clear the dishonest nature of the trading with which the defendants were involved.”
He said Fernandes was the sole director of House of Naturecare and Mr Rodrigues was the sold director of Nutri Care Quest. But he said both defendants played key roles in both companies.
Their home in Lincoln Road, Peterborough was raided on September 22 last year, along with units at Selfstoreit in the city. Boxes of vitamins, invoices and address labels were recovered.
Analysis by a financial investigator found at least £111,352 had been paid into the House of Naturecare Limited by credit card processing companies and at least £238,495 into the Nutri Care Quest account.
The prosecutor said others were involved in the businesses, including three people in India. Some of the money went to companies in India and some was transferred to the defendants’ personal accounts. Fernandes received £15,590 and Rodrigues received £10,060.
Neither man made comment to questions. In defence case statements they say they were innocent individuals brought in by others to run the business.
Mr Johnson said: “The prosecution say that it will be quite clear, having heard the evidence, that neither Mr Rodrigues or Mr Fernandes were innocent dupes. They played significant operational roles in carrying on each business.”
The trial continues.