A COMPANY director who concocted fake online reviews for his mobile phone recycling business while ripping off customers was convicted for unfair trading last week. 

Sathiharam Balasingam, the managing director of Cash My Fone, routinely duped thousands of customers by quoting generous cash payments for old mobile phones but not actually paying up after receiving the item. 

The 32-year-old also encouraged his staff to pose as satisfied customers and post fake reviews on websites including Trustpilot and Review Centre, branded by Judge Angela Morris as 'as close to blatant dishonesty as you can get' at his sentencing last Friday at Reading Crown Court. 

Balasingam, of Daybrook Road in Merton, admitted three counts of engaging in an unfair commercial practice when he appeared at court on Monday, September 21 and was sentenced the following Friday to nine months imprisonment suspended for two years and 200 hours community service.

He has also been banned from being a company director for two years and ordered to pay costs of £18,000. 

The crimes came to light during a Bracknell Forest trading standards investigation sparked by Cash My Fone customers who complained about non-payment or delayed payments, being unable to contact the company and not being returned phones when asked to. 

One Warfield resident, aged 46, who didn't want to be named, said: "When I scoured the internet for the best deal for my old phone, I was encouraged by the price offered by Cash My Fone. However, I became alarmed when no money was forthcoming.

"Matters went from bad to worse as the company ignored all my attempts to contact them, both by telephone and email. 

"I decided to contact trading standards and was delighted that they took up the baton and pursued the company. This conviction represents justice and I am happy that things have turned out the way they did."

Officers seized invoices for nearly 2,000 transactions which showed less than 13 per cent of customers were paid the price they were originally quoted.

A large number of complaints and court papers relating to customers taking legal action were also found. 

The two websites embroiled in the case, Trustpilot and Review Centre, both worked closely with trading standards to identify false reviews plastered online.

Robert Sexton, Bracknell Forest Council’s head of regulatory services, said: “The internet has its advantages but consumers often do not know who they are dealing with. With this type of company the only information that consumers have are the price that they are offered and reviews left by other consumers.

“In this case the company manipulated both. Company employees were posting thousands of false positive reviews with the consent of the managing director and offering prices for phones that the vast majority of consumers were never going to get.”