Consumers who thought they had won a top prize after calling a premium-rate phone line were later offered a reconditioned computer if they paid for a warranty, a court heard yesterday.
A prosecution involving Midland local authorities was launched after trading standards departments across England received complaints from people who had spent about £9 calling the line to find out what they had won, Bristol Crown Court heard.
Although the recorded message, at £1.50 a minute, told them they had won an Intel Pentium home computer, they were later sent a leaflet saying they would receive a free reconditioned computer if they bought a 12-month warranty for £116.33.
Iain MacDonald, prosecuting, said about 580,000 mailshots were distributed working on a 2-3 per cent response rate.
He told the court the scratch-cards always gave winning results, while the letters, which offered a top prize of a TVR Cerbera car, actually stated that the recipient had entered a competition, was a winner and should call the premium rate line.
At the end of the call, they were told to send their details in to receive it.
What arrived, the court heard, was a leaflet inviting them to contact another company, Key Computers, with their choice of warranty schemes - the cheapest costing £116.33 in order to claim the free computer.
The case was brought by Bristol City Council on its own behalf and on behalf of Durham, Gloucestershire, Shropshire and Hampshire County Councils and Telford and Wrekin District Council.
Two Bristol-based companies, Cutting Edge Telecom Ltd and Pokie Ltd, and two company directors have already pleaded guilty to 83 offences under the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 and the Consumer Protection Act 1987 in relation to the promotions.
The directors are Joseph Boll (26) of St Vincent's Rock, Sion Hill, Clifton, Bristol, who was a director of both companies, and Mark Hunter (41) of The Cricket Green, Hartley Wintney, Hampshire, a director of Pokie.
Each firm was believed to have a £1 million turnover during a twoyear period. The court heard that Pokie had gone into liquidation, meaning the company itself cannot be sentenced in respect of the charges, but its directors still can.
Judge John Foley adjourned sentencing to today.