Search into online scam

By Matt Nippert

A fashion model's internet business has been raided by the Commerce Commission in an unprecedented crackdown on alleged large-scale invoicing scams.

The glamorous 31-year-old is a model with Auckland agency Clyne, and is the sole shareholder and director of NZ Look Ltd, which publishes an internet directory.

On Tuesday, commission staff served a search warrant on NZ Look premises and removed 15 boxes of documents.

Klair, also known as Sonia Singh, had previously worked with other internet search directories that are also now caught up in a legal dragnet.

Klair refused to confirm her business was the subject of an investigation.

"Even if it is or isn't, what's that got to do with anything?" she said.

Stuart Wallace, enforcement manager of the commission, said five addresses in the Auckland region had been served with search warrants in an operation this week.

"Our staff have uplifted a great deal of material - there are computer records and a large number of documents," he said.

The searches relate to internet search directories National Business Online (nbo.co.nz), New Zealand Business Online (nzbol.co.nz) and NZ Look (nzlook.co.nz).

Wallace said 257 members of the public had complained to the commission about unsolicited invoices and cold calls asking for businesses to pay to "renew" their listings on the websites in question.

Wallace said that if the complaints were true, they breached the Fair Trading Act: "It's an offence to make a false representation that a person has agreed to provide goods and services," he said.

"The penalties under the Fair Trading Act can be quite substantial - up to $60,000 in fines for individuals, and up to $200,000 for companies."

Wallace said the commission would be assessing the evidence gathered from its searches before making a decision on whether to lay charges.

Klair said she worked with National Business Online for a year and then quit.

She subsequently started her own website directory and distanced herself from her former colleagues: "NZ Look does not run any business the way Shallandra was running it," she said.

New Zealand Business Online's sole director and shareholder is Shallandra Singh, also known as Shailendra or Shallendra.

He did not return calls or emails this week, but in a November interview with the Herald on Sunday disputed any suggestions of illegal activity by his businesses and portrayed himself as an international playboy with financial interests abroad.

Jitendra Singh, also known as Jay Singh, is the sole director and shareholder of National Business Online and, according to Klair, Shallandra Singh's brother. He did not return calls or emails this week, and was said to be absent when the Herald on Sunday called at his home on Motatau Rd, Pukekohe, on Friday.

Pratap Singh, who said he was Singh's father, confirmed the commission had visited the address to seize documents.

He said he did not know where Shallandra Singh was.

Sarah King, an internet consultant who has been warning people about these three websites since 2007, welcomed the action by the Commission: "I'm looking forward to what they do next," she said.

In June last year King received letters from law firm Hesketh Henry that said her internet articles claiming Shallandra Singh's businesses were scams were defamatory.

Lawyer Frank Chan, who wrote the letters, said Singh was no longer a client. Financial records show National Business Online defaulted on a $27,997 bill to Hesketh Henry this year.

- Herald on Sunday

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