THE SKILLSTRAIN SCAM & HOW I GOT MY REFUND

By Rob Ager 2009

Update 7th March 2013

This author recently defended a High Court libel case (case number HQ12X02409) brought against him for £50k of damages by Metropolitan International Schools Limited (aka Skillstrain, Train4tradeskills, Train2game) in June 2012 regarding this article. This article was temporarily removed while a written defence was compiled and submitted to the High Court. MIS Ltd discontinued their claim in January 2013, therefore the claim did not go to trial. This author is now at liberty to republish this article.

It has been brought to my attention that, while attempting to defend itself against claims for refund from its own students, MIS / Skillstrain have been submitting documents to legal bodies that contain untrue statements about my character and activities. If you have been, or are, involved in such a case then please contact me at stexposed@yahoo.co.uk.

Update 25th March 2013

I have posted a new page containing archived information and documents related to this article. View page - Metropolitan International Schools Limited - Information & Documents.

Update (added Aug 29th 2013)

A new government e-petition has been started to prompt an investigation of Metropolitan International Schools Limited. Details of the petition, and your option to support it, can be found at this link. http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/53782

 

Foreword

The intention of this article is to provide factual information to potential and existing Skillstrain (Metropolitan International Schools Ltd) customers so that they can make their own informed choice as to whether they do business with this group of traders. If you wish to know more about this video / article or have additional information that may be worth adding please email me at stexposed@yahoo.co.uk (Update May 8th 2013. MIS Ltd now says it has stopped using the Skillstrain brand name, however I am keeping this article available in case they begin using it again and because the company and its key personnel are still operating under other brand names)

Watch the 10 minute video or scroll down and read the more detailed text article.

If the video link isn't working then there's a good chance that Skillstrain have registered a complaint with the video host and had it removed. This happened within 48 hours of me first posting it on Youtube. It was taken down for "defamation", but Youtube doesn't investigate such claims or give the video uploader a chance to contest such accusations. They simply remove videos upon request and assume the complainant to be in the right. Not to worry. I will keep this video uploaded one way or the other as the information is factual and exposes fraudulant activities that Skillstrain customers have a right to know about. Skillstrain have already threatened me with legal action, but their argument is weak. I'm willing to go to court over this issue and in the process will make sure that Skillstrain are made to answer publicly for their false endorsements. These fraudulant endorsements are not going to be swept under the carpet. There is now also a Wikipedia page on Skillstrain that has been reviewed by Wikipedia moderators. (Update May 8th 2013: The Wikipedia page has since been deleted)

If the video isn't playing then you can download the video file here in mp4 format (just right click on the link and select "save as"). Feel free to upload this video to video hosting sites.

 

"scam" Slang - A fraudulent business scheme; a swindle. (source: thefreedictionary by Farlex)

 

CONTENTS

1) The Skillstrain controversy

2) The Skillstrain hard sell

3) My investigation into Skillstrain and its partners

4) How I got my refund

5) What can you do?

 

THE SKILLSTRAIN CONTROVERSY

Skillstrain is an IT training company that provides distance learning courses. In October 2008 the BBC Watchdog, in response to nearly 200 letters of complaint, investigated the company. (Update 14th June 2013: link not currently available, but I will be providing a downloadable archived copy. The report was recently removed from the BBC website as part of a general removal of material over three years old). It turned out skillstrain had been falsely claiming that its courses were endorsed by two major IT companies – Microsoft and CISCO. The Watchdog investigators also showed Skillstrain course materials to IT professionals for assessment. The feedback was that the materials were outdated and poorly written.

The report fuelled the anger of Skillstrain students. A flood of blog entries appeared online describing Skillstrain’s hardsell recruitment practices and refusal to refund course fees, including the website skills-train-experience (Update 14th June 2013: the aforementioned website was taken down at some point in 2011 for reasons unknown to this author). Skillstrain actually tried to sue google for allowing the supposedly defamatory blog entries to be posted online. Appropriately they lost the case. A petition to the Prime Minister, urging an investigation of Skillstrain was since signed by 355 people (Update May 8th 2013: Hyperlink to the petition no longer working. There was a change of government in early 2010 so I am unsure what eventually became of the petition).

Another interesting report I found was that in August 2007 the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) ruled that Skillstrain had breached CAP (Broadcast) TV Advertising Standards Code rules 5.1 (Misleading advertising), 5.2.1 (Evidence) and 5.2.2 (Implications).(Update 14th June 2013, link not currently available, but you can download an archived copy here)

Going back earlier to 2006 Skillstrain, under its former company name Scheidegger, was investigated by Nick Lawrence of the BBC. The reporter went under cover, posing as a potential student, and was told by the sales representative that the course certificate was required by many companies and that Scheiddeggar were working in association with Manpower and Elan IT. Both of these companies confirmed that Skillstrain/Scheidegger was not endorsed by them. Apparently Skillstrain/Scheidegger were accredited by the Institute of IT Training, the CEO (Colin Steed) of which told the BBC he would investigate the matter. When challenged about the false endorsments Skillstrain attributed them to another company, Multimedia Computer Training Limited. As you'll discover at the end of this article, they did the same in response to my complaints.

 

THE SKILLSTRAIN HARD SELL

The fee for a Skillstrain course is typically several thousand pounds. The potential customer responds to an advert or a viewing of the Skillstrain website and is then visited in their own home by a sales rep. During the home visit they’re shown a set of glossy promotional brochures claiming that Skillstrain courses are endorsed by an impressive selection of well known IT companies and educational bodies. They’re shown a set of charts outlining the apparently high earning potential for those who complete the course, and are given a basic IT knowledge questionnaire. They’re quickly given a pass mark and invited to sign up. The sales rep seals the deal by making a couple of phonecalls to arrange for a career development loan on behalf of the customer. The loan request is accepted, the full fee for the course is paid to Skillstrain by the credit company and the customer signs an agreement to pay back the credit company in a series of monthly installments.

 

MY INVESTIGATION INTO SKILLSTRAIN AND ITS PARTNERS

I signed up for a Skillstrain’s course back in August 2007. As I progressed through the first half of the course over the following year, I found that cheap off the shelf IT books covering the same subjects were much more well written. In fact the course materials made less and less sense with each module.

I wrote letters of complaint to Skillstrain and requested a cancellation of my course. I explained that I was willing to accept the loss of credit payments I’d already made in return for a cancellation of my remaining payments. A Mr D. Donald responded that it was too late to be given even a partial refund because my trial period of one month had expired. The irony of this is that in the first month I was only able to view the first module of the course. Further to this I had a very heated debate with someone at the Skillstrain office who claimed to be Mr. Ian Simpson. In response to my question to him about who was the Director or CEO of Skillstrain, he told me it was a "Mr. Butler", but he refused to give me a first name. Presumably he was referring to Mr. George Edward Butler, who headed the company for many years. However, according to Companies house records, George Edward Butler had retired over six months prior to my conversation with Mr Ian Simpson. Skillstrain also forwarded to me copies of endorsement letters apparently written by a company called Prosoft, which trades under the name CIW. Naturally, Prosoft endorsed the courses - they wrote them, while Skillstrain sells and distributes the course materials and provides teaching support. In attempting to contact Prosoft, I found it very difficult to acquire a business address for any of their offices. It took me six argumentative messages via the CIW website to a Louise McMahon Daly, before she finally gave in and told me the business address for their Irish office, which is Prosoft Training Europe Limited, Mary Rosse Centre, Holland Road, National Technology Park, Limmerick, Ireland. This lack of transparency about basic company information suggests CIW themselves have something to hide.

Then I discovered the BBC watchdog report, detailing that Skillstrain had fabricated Microsoft and CISCO endorsements of its courses. So I wrote to the remaining companies whose logos were featured on my course materials and received written confirmation of an additional three false endorsements. They are E-skills, The British Learning Association (now renamed as the British Institute for Learning and Development) and City & Guilds. So the Skillstrain course had been sold to me on the strength of at least five false endorsements.

Meanwhile, I had already cancelled my direct debit to the credit company Career Development Finance (CDF) and began receiving letters, emails and phonecalls telling me that if I didn’t continue with my payments then my debt would be passed on to a debt collection company. I stuck to my guns and refused to pay. The debt collectors never came, but for months afterward I received automated phonecalls almost everyday from debt consolidation companies. So much for confidentiality of my personal details.

One thing that especially roused my suspicion was that Career Development Finance letters featured a P.O. box number for correspondence rather than an actual business address. So for a small fee I downloaded most of Skillstrain and Career Development Finance’s financial and legal records at Companies House. It turned out that both companies were based on Collingdon St in Luton. A specific point of interest is that my correspondence with Skillstrain has come from an address at 80-88 Collingdon Street, yet Skillstrain's official business address is in the same building as Career Development Finance - 56 Collingdon Street.

I also discovered from Companies House records that Skillstrain’s CEO, Jan Talensky, has been listed as a director of CDF and Alena Telensky has been listed as CDF’s secretary. Basically CDF and Skillstrain are run by the same colluding group of people, but when responding to my complaint each said it was the other company with which I needed to speak. They were basically giving me the run around.

Incidentally, the jumbling of names and addresses seems to be a regular feature with this group of traders. Skillstrain used to be called Scheidegger and is merely a trading name for another company Metropolitan International Schools limited, which has also undergone several name changes over the years. Career Development finance used to be called B.S.T Credit Limited. Also based on Collingdon St at no 56, again the exact same address as CDF, is Skillstrain Europe Limited (Update 9th May 2013: details of these companies can be found at http://www.companieshouse.gov.uk/). The whole package of IT training and loan services relating to Skillstrain appears to be one operation disguised as several separate trading entities.

Another interesting note is that Jan Talensky resigned from his director position at CDF just one week before the BBC Watchdog report was published, but he was reappointed three months later after the initial flurry of bad press had subsided. So the next time you see a news report of Jan Telensky talking about green policies at his Aqua City resort, posing charitably with under-privileged children, meeting the Prime Minister or promoting one of his other companies such as Train4tradeskills, Train2Game (both of which are also getting a lot of bad reports online), JT Consultancy Limited (JT for Jan telensky of course), , … remember what you’ve learned here and at the BBC Watchdog about his role in the Skillstrain and CDF scam. Feel free to check out his blogspot and his youtube channel as well, but don’t expect to be able to leave comments or video ratings – these functions have been disabled.

 

HOW I GOT MY REFUND

Skillstrain managers continued to reject my refund requests and ignored any questions I put to them about their false endorsements. I took my case to Liverpool Trading Standards and cited the specific laws which, in my opinion, had been broken by skillstrain. I specifically noted sections 5 & 7 of the Consumer Protection From Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

As soon as Liverpool Trading Standards challenged Skillstrain about these issues, I was offered a refund. However, the refund was offered on the condition that I accept it as a good will gesture, rather than liability for false endorsement. The offer also included a condition that I would not publish any of the information I’d discovered about skillstrain or CDFs business activities. In other words they were trying to attach a gagging order. And their offer didn’t even include any kind of compensation for the time and effort I’d wasted on the course.

So I rejected the offer and informed Skillstrain I would pursue the matter through the county court. Skillstrain then promptly refunded my entire course fee and acknowledged liability in writing, but the refund letter came from another company called Multimedia Computer Training Limited. I haven't yet chased up this company's exact relationship with Skillstrain, but they were described to me in writing by Skillstrain as a "marketing company". Note that they were also blamed by Skillstrain in response to the BBC's revelation of two false endorsments (Manpower and Elan IT) in 2006. My refund confirmation from Multimedia Computer Training featured a squiggled signature, but no typed name. I checked the signature against those on the financial documents of the company and couldn't find a match. An even stranger detail is that Companies House documents show that Multimedia Computer Training Limited has been exempt from audit year after year, presumably due to dormant or low turnover status - so how are they able to refund customers? Is it a front company for the purposes of giving Skillstrain plausible deniability? This Skillstrain quote from the 2006 BBC report is revealing, "If it turns out Multimedia Computer Training Ltd and or its advisor have broken this policy, we will take this very seriously and take further action against them." As my refund letter reveals, three years on its business as usual and no action was ever taken by Skillstrain against the supposed guilty party. They have also told me in writing that they will inevtigate the matter further. Perhaps a giveaway clue that Multimedia Computer Training Limited are simply another company within the overall Skillstrain scam is that one of the directors of the company is registered as being of Czech nationality. Jan Telensky himself came to Britain from the Czech Republic. (an email correspondent recently informed me that Jan Telensky is a share holder at Multimedia Computer Training Limited, but I haven't yet checked this at Companies House records).

On the plus side Liverpool Trading Standards have informed me that they are now pursuing an investigation into the false endorsements I raised, which could result in criminal proceedings against Skillstrain - hopefully the results of these proceedings will be available publicly in the near future. (Update 13th June 2013: I do not know if LCC followed up on its stated intention to further investigate Skillstrain’s use of false endorsements, nor the results if it was followed up, as this was decided to be a separate matter following the resolution of my complaint in 2009 and was a confidential matter to which I had no further access. An LCC summary of the investigation into my complaint, which includes a stated intention of a further investigation, can be downloaded here. Metropolitan International Schools Limited (formerly t/a Skillstrain) have recently forwarded me correspondence stating that during 2012/13 there have not been any investigations of their activities by LCC, but that correspondence does not address the years prior to 2012.)

 

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

If you’re a dissatisfied Skillstrain customer then perhaps my experience can serve as a template for you to recover your course fees. Keep hold of all your Skillstrain coursework, credit contracts and sales brochure materials as these may be needed as evidence. Make sure that all of your communication with Skillstrain and its credit company partners is done by letter and keep stored records of all correspondence. Contact your local Trading Standards authority, inform them of whichever Skillstrain false endorsements have appeared on your Skillstrain brochures and course material and ask them to challenge Skillstrain. You may be able to strengthen your case by writing enquiry emails / letters to any other companies whose logos and supposed endorsements were used to persuade you to sign up. If you find new false endorsements, get evidence in writing from the companies involved. If Trading Standards are unable to assist you then you can pursue your case through the County Courts. For a reasonable fee the County Courts can provide mediation to resolve a claim without actually going to court. To my knowledge this service is cheaper than using a solicitor. Free mediation can also be found through LawWorks.

Here you can download confirmation letters from E-skills, the British Learning Association (now called the BILD) and City & Guilds regarding the three false endorsements I have so far uncovered (Due to reader request I've recently replaced the three downloadable documents with higher resolution files). There may actually be more false endorsements, as I haven't heard back from all the companies I wrote to. The BBC Watchdog report is called Skillstrain Under Scrutiny and can be viewed here. (Update 9th May 2013: The link is no longer working,  but I will be providing a downloadable archived copy on my page METROPOLITAN INTERNATIONAL SCHOOLS LIMITED - INFORMATION & DOCUMENTS. The report was recently removed from the BBC website as part of a general removal of material over three years old.)

Feel free to contact the BBC and request a Watchdog update on Skillstrain. Feel free also to register valid complaints with any other relevant watchdogs or regulatory bodies and, if legally applicable, take action against the specific sales rep who flogged the course to you. One possible course of complaint is the Companies Investigation Branch (CIB). Businesslink also conduct fraud investigations. Consumer Direct and the Financial Services Authority may also be able to help.

With enough widespread persistence the Skillstrain scam can be thoroughly exposed and derailed permanently.

If you wish to know more about this video / article or have additional information that may be worth adding please email me at stexposed@yahoo.co.uk.

Update (added Aug 29th 2013)

A new government e-petition has been started to prompt an investigation of Metropolitan International Schools Limited. Details of the petition, and your option to support it, can be found at this link. http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/53782

 

Update (posted 28th Feb 2010)

I now have documented evidence that some students pursuing refunds from Skillstrain who cite this article have been receiving response letters containing unfounded statements about me that are potentially defamatory. I am collecting copies of these letters for legal purposes so if you happen to receive such a letter, feel free to forward it to me along with your contact phone number. Thankyou.

Update (posted 17th March 2010)

number10.gov.uk have responded to the Skillstrain e-petition, which was signed by 355 people. They are advising dissatisfied distance learning customers to contact Consumer Direct or their local Trading Standards. One of the new measures being put in place is that "A task force is being established to address the problems created by bogus and low quality education providers more generally." That sounds like a promising step in the right direction. You can read the full response from the government here. (Update May 9th 2013: Hyperlink to the petition no longer working. There was a change of government in early 2010 so I am unsure what eventually became of the petition or "task force" announcement).

Update (posted 12th September 2010)

Thanks to all of you who've corresponded with me about your experiences of Skillstrain and its other trading enterprises (train4tradeskills, train2game etc). I'm pleased for those of you who have obtained your course cancellations and refunds, and offer my best wishes to those still negotiating with the company and relevant legal authorities.

For those of you who have received letters from Skillstrain containing statements about my involvement in this year's rounds of pre- general election political character assassination, please refer to my Press page for a much more truthful version of those events. Also note that The Telegraph and The Sun have removed their highly misleading articles about me, while an investigation into their reporting practices is being conducted.

For those of you who have received photocopies of a ridiculous article about me that apparently was published in an obscure christian evangelist magazine called The Son (co-founded by a stage magician evangelist), I haven't seen an original copy of the supposed article, but the origins of that factually incorrect story can be found on my website www.respectorneglect.com, which addresses a case of professional neglect by a christian charity that was providing council funded support to my father. (Update 14th June 2013: It turns out the article is in fact a forgery. The editor of The Son magazine has confirmed this to me by email)

In a nutshell, I'm an independent activist / journalist in my spare time and have used my writing and video editing skills for many purposes, including the revelation of certain practices used by Skillstrain. In the instances where I've sought to expose corruption or support our country's withdrawal from the EU I've sometimes found myself in the firing line of people whose interests I've crossed - some of whom have anonymously posted lies about me online. Anonymous character assassination is a strong sign of dishonesty. It goes with the territory when independent activists are getting results. On the other hand I've made no attempt to hide my identity in this article or accompanying video because, to the best of my knowledge, the claims presented are true.

The statements Skillstrain make, whether true or false, about my personal life or my public involvement in other corporate or political matters are irrelevant. What matters here is whether the company is able to refute the allegations that have been made against them not just by me, but also by other students, media sources and investigating authorities.

Feel free to quote this update when responding to any related statements Skillstrain make about me.

Update (posted 23rd May 2012)

Over the last couple of years two anonymous Hubpages articles have appeared, spreading disinformation about me to discredit my character and my work. I strongly suspect these have been written by Skillstrain trolls. I've now posted a full response to those articles.

Important info Re: Skillstrain libel case against Digital Trends

From the emails I’ve received, it appears the current Skillstrain strategy to dissuade customers requesting refunds is to cite a recent case in which they sued a company called Digital Trends for £50,000 in damages because the company hosted a forum in which anonymous “defamatory” statements against Skillstrain were made. Skillstrain make out that this proves all other accusations against them of wrong doing and illegal selling practices are lies, but a brief read over that case reveals a different story. Skillstrain tried to sue three companies at once, including two Google companies. They had already tried and failed to sue the same three companies a year before.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/QB/2009/1765.html

The reason Digital Trends were fined in the second case is, as the report states under article 9, they never took part in the court proceedings: “Digital Trends chose not to respond to these steps in the proceedings. They have not challenged the jurisdiction of this court, and they have not responded in any way to any of the allegations made against them (other than by removing the material complained of from their website). That is their right. But it means that the court does not have the benefit of any arguments or evidence submitted on their behalf.” Perhaps they thought the previous judgement in their favour would be carried forward.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/QB/2010/2411.html

So it wasn’t a big victory for Skillstrain after all, who lost against the other two companies in the same case and would probably have had to pay the legal costs of those companies. And article 7 contains another interesting statement: “In the present case the Claimant did not choose to rely upon the presumptions of falsity and damage which the law permits a claimant to rely on. From the start of this case the Claimant chose to allege in its Particulars of Claim that the words it complained of were factually incorrect.” There is nothing in the entire report that addresses the false endorsement evidence provided by BBC Watchdog and I. And, for all we know, the examples of supposedly defamatory content that Skillstrain complained of, which were anonymous forum postings, may have even been posted deceptively by Skillstrain affiliates to make the company appear demonized in court. It’s certainly possible.

Update (posted 24th May 2012)

Recommended blog posting from another individual who got their refund, this time through the Financial Omnbudsman Service and by citing the Trade Descriptions Act 1968. Apparently the FOS allows for refunds going back six years.

http://www.consumeractiongroup.co.uk/forum/showthread.php?301141-How-To-Get-Some-or-All-of-Your-Money-Back-From-Skillstrain-Train-4-Skills

Update (posted 2nd June 2012)

Paul Reilly has just messaged me asking if I would sign his petition at this link for Metropolitan International Schools (Skillstrain) customers who have been miss sold courses to be refunded and their courses cancelled. Please read and consider signing his petition.

Update (posted 3rd July 2012)

Another law forbidding false endorsement

Came across this one recently. In addition to the Consumer Protection From Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (sections 5 and 7) and the Trade Descriptions Act 1968, false endorsements are also illegal under the:

Unfair Commercial Practices Directive 2005

Additional notes:

The Trade Descriptions Act includes illegality of false information whether given in writing or orally by a salesperson. The Office Of Fair Trading appears to be responsible for enforcement of the Act.

Under the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive the following are also illegal:

For more info on each of the above visit http://www.isitfair.eu/.

 

Update (posted 25th March 2013)

I have posted a new page containing archived information and documents related to this article. View page - Metropolitan International Schools Limited - Information & Documents.

 

Update (added Aug 29th 2013)

A new government e-petition has been started to prompt an investigation of Metropolitan International Schools Limited. Details of the petition, and your option to support it, can be found at this link. http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/53782

 

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