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Rugged Phone Store: what you need to know about that site

We’ve restrained ourselves for long enough. We think companies bitching at each other is unseemly and frankly there are bigger issues in the world, but a rival website keeps making false claims about us and says it doesn’t repect the law because it “fights dirty” and implies it is aligned to motorcycle gangs.

Given that it’s your money they are ultimately after, we thought we’d share a little bit of the Rugged Phone Store’s background that you don’t know about, because this is the story of how two New Zealand companies ended up selling rugged phones in Australia.

IDENTITY THEFT

In 2011, Investigate Magazine (the parent company of this site, Rugged Phones Australia and the Outdoor Phone Store in NZ) began importing rugged tech for its office. It was so popular we began offering it for sale in our online store in NZ. By 2016 we had registered theoutdoorphoneshop.com and outdoorphonestore.com and branded them in national radio and online advertising campaigns across New Zealand.

Because there are laws against cybersquatting (where you register someone else’s brand) and “passing off in trade” (where you steal and use another business’ identity to lure their customers), we were very surprised to discover in mid 2018 that a NZ company called Kiwitrader61 Ltd had secretly registered outdoorphonestore.co.nz to itself and was suddenly capturing our traffic. It wasn’t just dumb, it was a prosecutable offence.

Kiwitrader61 was run by Peter Duncan Brown, a New Zealander living in a Christchurch flat, whose claim to fame was that he eked out a living selling a range of goods on TradeMe – New Zealand’s version of Ebay. Brown had seen the Outdoor Phone Store’s success, and had set up his company in October 2017.

We threatened legal proceedings against Brown in mid-2018 for “passing off”, and he quickly handed back the outdoorphonestore.co.nz domain, claiming he had ‘accidentally’ purchased our domain, set it up to point to his own website, and made it go live without intending to do any of this.

Imagine our surprise then, to discover Brown had secretly registered outdoorphoneshop.com.au and pointed it to his Australian site in December 2018.

Our own company has more than a hundred domain names to cover our operations all over the world. One of those is ruggedphonesdirect.co.nz to match the tagline on our main Outdoor Phone Store site.

In April 2019, Brown and his rugged phone store group AGAIN pulled an identity theft stunt, registering the copycat domain ruggedphonesdirectnz.co.nz and using it to run copycat Google ads.

https://investigatemagazine.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/fakesite.jpg

If the Rugged Phone Store is prepared to go to these lengths of deceptive trade conduct, without giving a hoot about the law, then clearly, Rugged Phone Store’s business ethics are non-existent. That should be a serious warning flag, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg in our view.

IS YOUR PERSONAL AND FINANCIAL DATA SAFE WITH A COMPANY THAT BOASTS OF CRIMINAL CONNECTIONS?:

Late in 2019, after Brown plastered a series of fake reviews of the Outdoor Phone Store on his sites, we threatened to sue NZ-based Brown from Rugged Phone Store Australia for continuing to make made-up and false claims about us (and he is re-posting fake reviews again). He then stated he was a “one percenter” and emailed back this threat…:

“The problem with people like you is you let your ego get in the way of reality and you think using the law will get rid of your problems. 

Sorry but I have got news for you and its all bad, one percenters like me have ways and means of dealing with scumbags like you and its not done through the courts. I don’t fight clean and I definitely don’t fight fair but no street fighter ever does.

That’s not a threat, that’s a promise!… I am a one percenter, welcome to the fight !!

See you when I get back to NZ.

Peter

Look up “one percenter” for yourself, and ask yourself if you want the grief of buying from an online store whose owner boasts those kind of connections and that kind of contempt for the law. Good luck if something goes wrong with your phone…at least Peter and his fellow one percenter mates will know where to find you if you dare to complain! (Maybe that’s why they don’t have a phone number, and maybe that’s why their customers prefer dealing with us, as above)

A STRING OF COMPANY NAMES AND CLOSURES

Kiwitrader61 Ltd was the company liable for warranty claims on faulty mobile phones in NZ, but as you can see from the company records it has been struck off the register. Presumably Brown transferred those obligations to two new companies, Rugged Phones NZ Ltd and Rugged Phone Store NZ Ltd.

The problem is, Rugged Phone Store NZ Ltd didn’t last very long either being removed off the NZ companies register in January 2020. Rugged Phones NZ Ltd was only set up in April 2019, and its companies office classification is “internet only”. Despite being “internet only”, Rugged Phones NZ says “Before we started selling online, we were already selling Rugged Phones to large and small businesses and Government departments in New Zealand. ” Given that RPNZ has no phone number or published email address, and only allows contact via a webform, it is hard to imagine what hoops a genuine business or government department would have to jump through to make an offline purchase.

Given that Brown only established a company (Kiwitrader61) in October 2017, he is unlikely to have been doing any substantive offline business with government departments and big companies prior to that without a GST registered company either.

The same apparently false claims are made on the Australian site:

“Before we started selling online, we were already selling Rugged Phones to large and small businesses and Government departments in Australia. In fact even today, we still sell more rugged phones offline than we do online. We have direct business relationships with many Australian businesses and Government departments and we stand behind every phone we sell.”

Brown did not establish any Australian phone company until November 2018, the same moment he began selling online in Australia. He’s on the record saying his NZ site has “never” sold phones to Australians,  and yet his Australian company did not exist in the period “before we started selling online”.

Therefore, it is impossible for the current claim on The Rugged Phone Store Australia site to be true.

Again, Brown is lying to give himself an aura of credibility.

AN AUSTRALIAN COMPANY, OR NOT?

Peter Brown told NZ authorities he is NZ based, in October 2017, and again in April 2019, and again in September 2019.

Yet he told Australian authorities when he set up Rugged Phone Store Pty Ltd in November 2018 that he was based in Australia. And the Rugged Phone Store website explicitly says:

The Melbourne address turned out to be a building operating as a backpacker’s hostel. And of course, by April and September 2019 Brown’s address was again Christchurch.

In November 2018 in a news release on its Rugged Phones NZ site, Brown announced RPNZ had established a company in Australia. But in a January 2020 news release on his NZ site he now claimed Rugged Phone Store Australia was the “parent company” of Rugged Phones NZ.

Again, we checked. No it isn’t. Brown of Christchurch owns 100% of the RPNZ shares, not Rugged Phone Store Australia.

Virtually nothing that Peter Brown tells his customers appears to be verifiably true.

RUGGED PHONE STORE AGAIN CAUGHT MAKING FALSE CLAIMS ABOUT COMPETITORS

In a clear reference to Rugged Phones Australia, Brown recently posted this on his site:

But I thought they were an Australian business?

Just because a website has a domain name ending in “.com.au” does not make it an Australian business. Read that again!!

One of our competitors based in New Zealand operates a rugged phone site in Australia with a domain name ending in “.com.au” and on first glance some people (who have contacted us) thought they were dealing with an Australian business.

When things went wrong (some minor and some major) for these people, suddenly calls weren’t accepted, emails went unanswered or worse, emails were blocked, they realised they had no one in Australia to help them. No consumer protection, nothing.

As these buyers found out, promises made on a website owned by a business outside of Australia are worthless. Don’t take the risk, it’s just not worth it!!

Apart from the extreme irony of a company director based in Christchurch wrapping himself completely in the Australian flag to attack a competitor as “based in NZ”, his claims are actually untrue.

No phone calls “weren’t accepted”. Why? Because our 1800 number goes to a live person 24/7/365. Anyone can test it anytime. Whereas you can’t ring the Rugged Phone Store.

No “emails went unanswered or worse…blocked”.

Instead, that just happens to be exactly the kind of behaviour that Rugged Phone Store customers have complained to us about (they ring us, thinking we are the company that sold them the dodgy phone they are having trouble with and – shock, horror – they get through to us!). When we helped them despite not selling them the phone, they were ecstatic and said so on Facebook:

“Most grateful shout out to this company – they helped my daughter with a problem on her phone that has been ongoing for months & even after realising we had called the wrong company for support (bought from a similar named company originally) there was no hesitation in walking us through the steps we needed to take even though it was complicated & took 10 minutes. Incredibly patient and helpful – thank you!”

If Rugged Phone Store can’t even muster up the technical expertise to fix a simple software glitch, just how good do you think their “Two Year Premium Plus Warranty” is really going to be worth to you?

Another Rugged Phone Store customer praised us:

“Made the mistake of buying my phone off a similarly named company who has not replied to my messages regarding an issue with my phone under warranty. Was helped here to overcome the problem with no previous connections. “Greatly appreciated” Richard”.

Another Rugged Phone Store customer in Victoria used our Leave a Message service to abuse us about an expensive Ulefone he’d bought from us – except we knew it wasn’t us as we don’t sell that crap. He wrote:

“Can you explain to me why this phone I just purchased will not see my [very expensive] Peltor XPI headset? It wont pair because it cant see it when looking for devices…so now I have to stop the tractor and answer the mobile by picking up the phone rather than take the calls in the headset…SUPER disappointed!! any thoughts because Im NOT a happy camper right now. And as for my headset..its just dead weight right now,…expensive useless dead weight”.

We soon corrected him on who had sold him the problem phone, and then we got our technical team to find a solution, for which he too was extremely thankful:

“I highly appreciate the advice re:headset..fixed my grief,..I should have know better….I just might take a hammer to this phone and buy one from you guys just because…..leave it with me. cheers Happy Steve”

Proof that Rugged Phone Store, with a long history of lying to the public, is still lying today: it is the “Australian” NZ company whose customers can’t get technical support for even simple faults, customers whose messages go unanswered.

The situation is little different for Brown’s NZ customers.

One complaint is that it is near impossible to get hold of an identifiable person, and they don’t hand out their phone number. Neil and Cherie purchased a phone from that company that later broke – no argument there, accidents happen – however the couple quickly discovered they were on their own because of what we have repeatedly warned you: the other company can’t fix phones, and they appear to ignore requests for phone contact:

Three weeks later, on 10 July, the other company came back with a quote for a new back cover, a new rear camera, and a free front camera for good measure. The price for parts alone? A hundred and forty-three dollars. But that didn’t include installation. There was no offer by the other company to repair the phone for a fee – the technical expertise simply isn’t there. So Neil and Cherie were left wondering who was actually going to fix their phone.

They might have been in for a bigger shock. The other company quoted for a full “rear camera”, but the rear camera itself was unharmed – it was the glass lens protector covering the rear camera that had smashed.

The lens protector is a different part, and cheaper, and it isn’t included when you buy the rear camera – you must buy it separately. We know this because we have the parts in Auckland! And we repair these phones. Neil and Cherie, customers of Rugged Phones NZ (aka Rugged Phone Store), waited three weeks and were billed $143 for parts the Outdoor Phone Store keeps in stock in NZ and sells for a total of $89, not $143!

The rear camera and spare front camera would have been useless to Neil and Cherie.

The moral of the story? Don’t deal with former TradeMe hucksters trying to make a quick buck selling phones. The phone prices of some companies may be up to $150 cheaper than ours, but that could be the most expensive $150 you ever “save” on a phone. When you buy from the Outdoor Phone Store you get our technical expertise, and local parts supply, for that extra $150. If you pay peanuts in this business you quite literally end up being monkeyed with if something goes wrong.

Little wonder that Neil and Cherie came to the Outdoor Phone Store for help, vowing they wanted nothing more to do with “those idiots” at Rugged Phones NZ:

“Many thanks for your time today.  … We would just really like to get the phone fixed without using those idiots to do so!  So any help would be much appreciated. Thanks Cherie”.

IN SUMMARY

It’s up to you who you buy a rugged phone from. It’s your money. But if you do business with the Rugged Phone Store, at least you know why they are obsessed with us: they always have been. From stealing our names and ideas, to making up false statements to divert attention from their own dishonesty and incompetence.

It’s a shame they still don’t appear able to fix the simplest things on faulty phones they sell to their customers (now with “Premium Plus” warranty, although two times zero is still zero), and they’re not prepared to talk to buyers over the phone. Ironic, for a phone company really.

Rugged Phones NZ (re-incorporated April 2019, previously an October 2017 company)  and Rugged Phone Store Australia (incorporated November 2018)  are owned by Peter Brown, working from a Christchurch flat.

Rugged Phones Australia, Rugged Phones USA, Rugged Phones UK, Rugged Phones Fiji, Rugged Phones Samoa, Rugged Phones Raro and the Outdoor Phone Store are all part of HATM Magazines Ltd (Investigate Magazine) incorporated January 2000.

Let there be absolutely no confusion about who you are buying from, or which is the most stable company. One of the companies has a 20 year trading history and tens of thousands of customers on its books. The other company says it’s got ties to a motorcycle gang.

Your call.

UPDATE 29 Jan 2020:

Brown has admitted his companies passed themselves off as us to the public for “strategic commercial purposes”.

Brown has made no denial of his gang connections.

Brown has admitted starting up and closing down a string of mobile phone companies.

When pushed for evidence of Australian customers not having warranties honoured, his best and only Australian evidence was an email from Phoebe over the Christmas/New Year break asking for a copy of her tax receipt (which she duly received) when the accounts team returned from holiday.

In keeping with his ‘I fight dirty’ promise, when pushed for evidence of any other abandoned customers Brown has republished a series of defamatory fake ‘reviews’ from people who had not actually ever purchased a phone from our stores, along with two complaints from actual customers – one whose phone was not faulty, and another which had been damaged by the customer but which we repaired for free anyway.

Then, in a froth-at-the-mouth attempt to divert attention from whether his customers are safe buying from a company boasting gang connections and which is prepared to openly threaten measures ‘outside the law’ against competitors, Brown says this of the HATM Magazines Ltd founder:

Has been variously described (by others) as a very average ex journo, second rate publisher, christian-right agenda screamer and creator of headline news (to help sell his books), well known for twisting things to suit his agenda and has an ego bigger than Texas.

Brown relied on a 2005 commentary piece by a disgruntled Herald journalist, written at a time when Wishart’s Investigate magazine (which was sold in NZ and Australia) had just forced the resignation of a senior Government minister.

The “very average ex journo” was nonetheless named as one of New Zealand’s most influential writers at the same time…and a less biased biography was independently published by the New Zealand Film Commission.

In 2011, an investigation by Wishart and a colleague solved a 30-year old child abduction mystery in Britain, which made the front pages of the Evening Standard and Daily Mail, as well as the features section of the Sunday Times.

Wishart makes regular appearances in the Australian, US and UK media and is a #1 bestselling author many times over, receiving positive reviews from scientists and global publications for his books.

Why are we telling you this? Because this issue over the Rugged Phone Store comes down to credibility, and Peter Brown has put that ball in play.

So who is more likely to honour consumer protection laws in Australia? A company founded by a public figure who has sold more than $25 million worth of books and magazines in Australia and around the world, with a reputation to uphold? Or a guy operating from a Christchurch flat who boasts of his gang connections and makes direct threats?

It’s not rocket science.