/ Food & Drink, Money

Are wine clubs to your taste or a load of plonk?

Wine being poured

With the help of thousands of Which? members we’ve glugged our way through gallons of plonk to compare wine clubs. They can be quite the investment, so if you’ve joined one, did you think it was worth it?

A selection of wines picked by experts delivered straight to your door, and if you don’t like them you can just send them back. What’s not to like?

Unfortunately, wine clubs are a bit outside my price range, given that the cheapest mixed cases cost around £60. But I do find the idea quite appealing.

Wine is now a key part of the UK consumer experience, and we each guzzle about 28 litres a year according to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association. But while many of us know a few wine connoisseurs and can tell a Merlot from a Malbec, few would claim to be able to pick the finest quality bottle from a taste test.

That’s where wine clubs can really shine. The convenience factor is great, but when wines are hand-picked by experts you can experience great wines without delving into books or trawling the French countryside yourself.

The best and the rest?

Ultimately, it’s the quality of the wines that separates the best from the rest, and in our customer satisfaction survey of 12,286 Which? members, one club stood out. The Wine Society was the only wine club to achieve 5 stars for quality, and also topped the bill for its range of wines, delivery and managing orders.

Not all the clubs were so good though. When we asked to hear about your experiences, some of you told us of wines being substituted for others of poorer quality, as well as confusion around membership and cancellations.

There’s only one problem with The Wine Society though – like a gym membership you need to pay a one-off £40 lifetime membership fee to join, so you can’t just try them out.

Most other clubs actively encourage you to give them a try, through introductory offers which often come in at half the full price, say £30 a case. However, be careful what you’re signing up for, as your next purchase could cost twice as much.

What’s your experience?

Besides problems of unwanted substitutions and people finding themselves in rolling contracts after signing up to introductory offers, some wine clubs have other surprises. Delivery costs often come to £6.99 per box, but only some clubs charge them.

There’s also the little matter of what’s in your case. A case of 12 wines doesn’t necessarily mean 12 different wines. We found six different wines (two of each) to be the most common combination, but some only give four.

Have you been a member of a wine club, and if so what did you think of it? Was it good value, or did you fall foul of rolling memberships, delivery costs, or poor quality wines?

Comments
Guest
j jones says:
29 September 2012

Clearly Naked Wines provokes a lot of emotional debate here! I’ve never bought from them because I don’t like the “lack of transparency” in their marketing. I find all these “wine clubs” want to sell you mediocre wines and tie you up to regular payments. So I simply buy my wines from an independent online wine merchant who imports quality wines direct from the wineries and retails them at affordable prices. I still get the saving as there’s no middlemen, and I only order when I want, and I don’t get bombarded with “too good to be true offers” all the time. You don’t need to go to these big companies to get a good deal, there are quite a few independent retailers importing and selling good wines, and they all have websites these days. Why do people get sucked in by these high profile discounts and membership clubs?

The Wine Society also offers some good wines and at decent prices although they have too much emphasis on France for me and not enough choice of new world wines. But at least they don’t bombard you with these phoney offers and make it difficult to cancel your membership – I cancelled mine and it was straight forward.

To explain my objection to Naked Wines, they really push their claim that they are different because they “invest in winemakers” who then make wines just for them (and they make a big point of claiming that their Angel’s money is safe “held in a separate company’s trust account”).

They tell their Angels’ that they use their money to finance winemakers…BUT they only hold a tiny fraction of this money in the separate company, the majority of it is used by these Angels to buy wine…from Naked Wines of course. So this money (or the vast majority at least) isn’t invested at all but generates £20 million of sales for NW! Classic marketing ploy!! And well done to NW for coming up with it! But it’s not really any different to any of the Laithwaites/Virgin/Direct Wines Ltd outfits – no surprise when you consider NW was created by 17 ex Virgin Wines employees!

But are these Angels investing their money aware that Naked Wines makes a massive loss? In fact they have never made a profit and since their inception have accumulated losses of about £5.5 million! It’s no wonder they bend over backwards to recruit “Angels” because if you took away the regular £20 a month income from their alleged 100,000 Angels their predicament would be potentially precarious! Even though they are basically owned by the wealthy Pieroth family from Germany.

The question is how long can this be sustained? This all looks like another Fare Pak to me!

Guest
Rowan Gormley says:
30 September 2012

John Jones is the false name of a troll, who spends a huge amount of time repeating this and other posts everywhere that Naked Wines is discussed.

I repeat my reply to his other posts…

Most of his assertions are wrong and completely unfounded.

– Naked Wines Customers money IS safe. It is kept separate from Naked Wines in a Naked Wines Prepayments Trustees Limited, so that whatever happens to Naked Wines doesn’t affect our customers. IN addition, customer’s money is guaranteed by a $600m family owned German wine company.
– We do get better quality wines for our customers money by investing in our winemakers, not by being cheaper than the supermarkets, but by getting better wine in the bottle

For example, the difference between top quality Marlborough Sauvignon and bog standard MS is $300 a ton – which sounds a lot until you realise that works out at 30p a bottle. If you were to buy that wine in a UK retailer, it would not cost 30p more – it would cost £3 more. And that is where we have an edge.

Any time you’d like to put us to the test, why don’t you nominate one of your independent wine merchants, and lets do a blind tasting together to see whose wines are better?

Speaking of you John, why do you hide behind a false name? You obviously have an axe to grind. Don’t you think you should tell us what it is that makes you so bitter?

Guest
Charles says:
30 September 2012

Rowan is, of course, correct.

Is there another company that lets the customers decide which wines to buy, as NW does?

Guest
j jones says:
1 October 2012

Hi Rowan
My apologies for focusing too much on this Angels money. I too, like your Angels, put too much belief in your high profile catchphrase “we invest in winemakers”. Hearing you now have 100,000 Angels investing £20 per month I naively thought that meant you had £24 million to look after.

Whereas the reality is the vast majority of this money isn’t held or invested in winemakers, it’s simply spent on Naked Wines products as your Angels use this money to buy their wine. Although you don’t seem to advertise that side of the business so much for some reason. You’d rather give the impression to NW’s customers that virtually all this money goes toward getting you wines at serious discounts from producers! Any thoughts on this? Why not have a dedicated page on your website explaining all the good work you’re doing with the exact amounts invested and where? And on what exactly – is it just spent on their stock, or is it actually buying shares in their businesses? If you’re investing anything like the image you’re portraying this would be great publicity wouldn’t it? It’d certainly silence the “trolls” for you.

So according to your company accounts you only hold about £1.5 million in this trust company with about half of this spent on NW’s products each month – is that about right? I also appreciate the funds are held in a separate company although with the same principle shareholders and director (yourself), there’s a strong chance HMRC would class the two as associated companies and come after those assets if necessary (NW has settled that big tax bill now I believe?). But that’s unlikely and only if NW runs into financial difficulty, so this Angel money is nowhere near the risk I thought it was (when I thought you were investing £24 million in wineries!).

On your personal blog where we first conversed I said that consumers weren’t stupid. However your clever marketing has achieved some remarkable results so maybe I’m wrong again, although stupid is far too harsh a word – susceptible to clever marketing would be a better description. NW has just sold 200+ plus cases of Taymente Malbec (a fairly standard malbec on sale in the USA for about $10) in 48 hours. You got £9.75 for it which isn’t unfair but certainly isn’t “cheap”, given that similar wines like Susana Balbo Crios Malbec sell on the same USA websites for more but retail in the UK for around £8.50 to £9. But the remarkable thing is you sold all this without even buying or shipping it, without the 200 customers even tasting it, and they have to wait 4 months for it to arrive! That is pure genius!

It’s presumably around US$40 a case ex cellars so you’ll make around 45%, paid upfront with no waste – with skills like this how can NW still not make any money?

I like the fact that you have a word (“troll”) for people who question NW’s methods, to try to find answers for the general public who are targeted by your marketing department. This implies that clearly there must be plenty of people asking questions then? Trying to project a negative image onto anybody who questions your methods! That could make some people think you had some methods you would rather keep out of the public eye.

I used to work in the wine trade, and I like to keep an eye on developments. Watching the rise of a brand new concept – Naked Wines – has been fascinating. You have captured a brand new market, the Twitter and Facebook generation of wine drinkers. Their wine knowledge is limited but they clearly want something different to the standard array of Direct Wines Ltd wine clubs. You’ve given them something which has a lot of similarities although has a very different but convincing appearance. You’re still selling the same level of wines, just marketing them with a different angle that this market sector are swallowing.

Shaking up the traditional set up is not necessarily a bad thing though, and I certainly think the market has room for an operation like NW. As a member of an older generation and as a genuine wine enthusiast, I prefer a straight talking, open approach to wine retailing, although I also realise that doesn’t always pay the bills!

Good luck and I look forward to watching developments with interest (I’m still not investing though!)
By the way, if “troll” is your name for people posting questions about NW what is your name for your army of employees who keep anonymously posting good reviews for you?

Guest
Charles says:
1 October 2012

Maybe that’s the problem, you used to work in the wine trade.

I was one of 40 or so Archangel customers who chose the Taymente Malbec from all the other Argentinian wines at the ‘Wines of Argentina’ event at Lords Cricket Ground. The next day it was on sale on the web site. To say that customers had not even tasted it is sheer nonsense.

For too long customers have had so called “wine experts” telling them what they should like and what they should buy. This is changing with NW. The world has changed and we now have innovative new companies who use a blend (sic) of traditional methods and modern technology in their marketing strategies.

The only clever part is getting the customers involved at every step and supplying them with what they want to buy. NW do this with visits from winemakers, and to winemakers in different parts of the world.

I don’t know why you quit the wine trade but the general rules of business are survival of the fittest.

Guest
David Derbyshire says:
1 October 2012

I think Rowan’s point about describing you as a ‘troll’ is based mainly upon the facts that you are not prepared to reveal your true identity, and that you seem to pop up everywhere that you can to sarcastically question the business ethics of Naked Wines and its parent company, when there is nothing to suggest that the company behaves any differently to any other commercial organisation – in fact I would say they are more open than most. Certainly they may be losing money at the present time, as the vast majority of start-ups do – that’s why they tend to need the financial backing of a larger company.

I’ve been a customer (yes that’s right, a customer, not an employee) of NW since they launched in the UK, and whilst I don’t profess to understand the inner machinations of the company, it’s a concept that works for me.

For what it’s worth, I have had the pleasure of meeting many of the people who have contributed in favour of NW in this forum thread – they have logged their posts here using their real names, which is why I know I have met them. I can testify (and it’s your choice whether you believe it or not) that they are all customers of NW, not employees.

The point here is that we are all loyal and committed customers, not anonymous posters who work for the company – if you believe that we are collectively naive or stupid that’s an opinion that you’re entirely entitled to, but most of us have tried other wine clubs and been less satisfied than we are with NW.

The impression that I’ve gained during my time as a NW customer is that they provide me with enough information to satisfy me that I’m getting value for money, the cash-back discount works for me, and most importantly of course….the wines….they are very good indeed.

After all, that’s what this thread is about – do wine clubs work, yes or no? The answer clearly is: all of them do, for a majority of their regular customers. Some people vote with their feet (yes, that’s the case with NW as well), and others stay where they are, presumably because they like what they’re getting. I think it’s the same with most industries selling direct to consumers.

You make some more constructive points in your latest post about NW disrupting the market, and I agree that it was a market that needed disrupting, with the majority of the significant players all being owned by one organisation. Hopefully there will be other companies that manage to break into the market successfully.

As for the supermarkets, they aren’t presenting any kind of level playing field for small winemakers – the deals that they make with the huge wine conglomerates to sell their wines at knock down rates make it hopeless for the small guys to succeed in a very competitive market – at least NW (and some of the other direct sellers) are able to offer them a place to get their products recognised for what they are – truly excellent wines, rather than mainstream plonk.

Whilst I value your input to this forum – it would be far easier to respect your opinions if you told us who you are and what your angle is? I’m a keen wine enthusiast too, and occasional wine blogger. I work in IT, and I don’t buy all my wine from one retailer, although I must admit I currently buy most of mine from Naked Wines, and in the past I’ve used Virgin and Laithwaites.

If you really are called John Jones, and you are simply an interested and concerned consumer, then I apologise for besmirching your views, but I suspect based on your past postings (here and elsewhere) that there’s something more sinister going on, either sour grapes (perhaps a disgruntled customer – they do exist) or underhand tactics from the competition (it has happened before to NW, on Twitter). I believe, perhaps wrongly, that most consumers aren’t terribly bothered by what goes on inside the companies that they buy from, so long as they like the product, believe they are getting value for money, and like the ‘vibe’ of the company.

I can see that while I’ve been writing this overly long response, Charles has already answered much more succinctly and with more relevance than I ever could, but I’m going to post this anyway!

Guest
Barry says:
1 October 2012

JJ you are still way off-beam with your comments, but if you don’t mind I’ll clarify just one point…

I attended the tasting as one of the favoured customers (repeat – customers) that had gathered in the Media Centre at Lords Cricket Ground to wade our way through 45 Argentinian wines on behalf of Naked Wines; with the aim of finding a winner to be given £50,000 worth of business in the Zero to Hero competition, which culminates in the winners of the various heats like this one going head to head for $1m of business. The customers (repeat – customers) voted for the wines they rated – then re-tasted the top three and again voted for the eventual winner the Taymente Malbec. And it beat wines nearly twice it’s price – according to the Wines of Argentina catalogue this has a retail price bracket of £10-£12.99. And what do other’s think?

The 2008 got 87 Parker Points, and Stephen Tanzer of International Wine Cellar fame (and “thoroughly reliable” per Jancis Robinson) gave the 2009 88 points giving it Recommended status, and in the Very Good to Excellent range.

I conclude that the customer’s palate have collectively chosen a very good wine for Naked Wines to sell at £9.75 delivered to your door.

And… I am off to London again tomorrow tasting on behalf of Naked Wines as a favoured customer (so I am not getting paid for this) at the Wines of Sicily. Staying over with my daughter which helps to cut some costs – but increases others! – to attend the final heat of their Zero to Hero competition tasting, this time Australian wines. Can’t wait! Will our collective customer’s (I hope by now that the penny has dropped!), palates choose an equally good wine – well, we will have to wait to find out.

A final thought though. If you happen to be free and I am assuming that you could get to London relatively easily, then the venue is Lords once more, but their main hall (as used by Wines of Argentina) then for £20 you could meet and discuss with some of the 87 winemaker’s on the Naked Wines portfolio for yourself… And please Which? I am not trying to advertise here, so much as win a doubting Thomas over, so cut me some slack if I provide a link for the worthy JJ to follow, which is:-

http://www.nakedwines.com/tastings/naked-wines-christmas-tasting-london.htm

Who knows YOU could find out for yourself first-hand the who, what and why as to Naked Wines undoubted and – based on their Trophy cabinet – well deserved success.

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
Guest

Hello everyone, I am concerned at the direction this Conversation is taking. Although we are happy for people to criticise companies, we must stay on the right side of the line.

If you think someone is a troll, please use the ‘Report this comment’ button on the comment, rather than making an accusation publicly. Commenters are also not required to provide their real name – they can be anonymous if they so wish.

However, I’ll be giving these comments a closer look tomorrow. I certainly don’t want to remove your freedom say what you want, but we do have commenting guidelines: https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines

Guest
Rowan Gormley says:
1 October 2012

Hi Patrick, message received.

I am perfectly comfortable with people remaining anonymous provided they don’t have the intent to harm…and a review of “John Jones” ” comments raises that possibility

Rowan

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Guest

The Terms & Conditions for Which? Conversation actually recommend use of a pseudonym, Rowan.

I have never been a member of a wine club and after reading the comments made on this topic I have no intention of doing so.

Guest
john jones says:
2 October 2012

I take everybody’s comments on board. I have no “axe to grind” with NW as far as being in competition with them or being a disgruntled customer. I was just questioning a lot of their dubious (in the literal sense) statements and I suppose my tone became a bit more sarcastic, in response to Rowan’s tone toward me for asking legitimate questions, and this also led me to probe a little deeper as I have time on my hands.

NW is made up of IT experts who are proficient in social media (and presumably some people who know a bit about wine as well) so they’ve made sure they have a high profile on sites like this (quite legitimately in many cases). I just don’t like to see the general public mislead by well placed insider comments or misleading advertising. Going from other comments I’ve read on the web some people believe this is happening. Barry – I take your point that you are genuine, and so are many other contributors, providing your honest opinion with no angle.

However I genuinely believe a shake up of the existing wine clubs is a good thing. From what I’ve read here many NW customers are very happy with their new wine club (as they are currently getting heavily subsidised deals). The supermarkets and Direct Wines Ltd have between them controlled this end of the market for a long time, and are partly responsible for the decline in quality of wines on sale in the UK as they have forced supplier prices down.

So NW is getting some good praise from some of it’s customers, as well as some not so good but that is to be expected as nobody can please all the people all the time. Perhaps I am just too old fashioned to understand this social media stuff, or why a business would ask a handful of it’s customers to select it’s products! But if it works for NW then good luck to them. (I tasted Taymente Malbec in the states and it didn’t do anything for me).

Whether this is just a fad or a genuine new way of doing business only time will tell, as NW will not be able to subsidise all their customers indefinitely and will have to make a profit at some stage. In the meantime they are taking trade away from the likes of Direct Wines Ltd, the supermarkets and Majestic which may make them sharpen their pencils too. So it should be beneficial to the consumer whatever happens in the longer term.

Guest
Rowan Gormley says:
2 October 2012

Hi John

I have a suggestion..why not come and join us at one of our tastings, so you can meet the people who select our wines (and see for yourself that they are completely real). try the wines and see how we work?

Rowan

Guest
Charles says:
2 October 2012

I am pleased to read the latest, more moderate and balanced comments from j j .

I would also like to reassure him that NW customers are not all brainwashed zealots and, like any other company, NW will also have to evolve in a changing market place if it is to survive. After all, as customers it is ultimately our choice that makes or breaks companies.

Guest
Sarah Mumford says:
14 October 2012

Having googled “best wine club” I came across the Which site and assumed I might get some impartial advice about wine clubs. Really disappointing therefore to find long-winded discussions on the veracity of so called marketing-about one company. and by the way, as a Marketing Director and a holder of a Master’s degree in the discipline I object to ‘spin’ being referred to as marketing. Very ignorant. Anyhow, you have put me off Which, and ensured I shall not be using any of these conversations as you have all decided to use the thread for your own agenda- thank you so much, I shall google again…

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Guest

Hello Sarah – I’m sorry you didn’t find what you were after. Which? Conversation is for debate, not for reviews. The full review is available in the magazine, however you can find a selection of the survey results in this Convo, as based on a customer satisfaction survey of 12,286 Which? members. The full article is also available as a PDF here: http://www.which.co.uk/documents/pdf/p22-23_wineclubs-251315.pdf

Profile photo of wavechange
Guest

Thanks Patrick for deleting the comments from a company rep who blatantly promoted their company in response to one of my messages. It’s good to see that the wine clubs with higher scores are not trying to misuse this debate.

Guest
Bill says:
22 March 2013

Having purchased two cases of wine from NW I find the products to be OK but certainly not outstanding. Some, such as the S.African Chenin were very good. Likewise the Lagar de Bezana Cabernet was excellent. My worry is that so many of the cheaper wines are bottled in Germany. I spent thirty years in the wine trade and it was generally accepted that the better wines were bottled at source and the cheaper new world wines were bottled in Europe. These are the wines you can buy very cheaply at Lidl or Aldi. In front of me I have a Small & Small Sauvignon Blanc. Currently you can obtain the Brancott Estate Sauvignon from Waitrose far cheaper – and I assure you the Brancott wine is the better wine. In my opinion, the best NZ SB is The Ned so when that is on offer – buy it. All in all I am not happy with the NW set-up – too much bullsh*t for my taste. Nuff said.

Guest
Jeff J says:
29 July 2013

I bought the Groupon for it’s plain intrinsic value. I mean, how bad could a case of wine be for $60? Okay, I admit I’m a bit of a wine snob, I love my $50+ Napa Cabernets as much as my wife does but we can’t drink them every night now can we? In the supermarket, I’m always searching for decent $10-15 wine that I can enjoy with every dinner. I’m not going to get the greatest wines anywhere at that price point, but I’m hoping for bargains and surprises along the way.

Before I bought the Groupon, I combed through the http://nakedwines.com website searching for potential issues or loopholes that I couldn’t get out of. For one, I saw that I did NOT need to become an “angel” to get the Groupon deal. From what I understood, I could go in, select my wines, apply the Groupon and checkout without ANY further obligation.

So, even though they had a new angel case with a sample of their wines, I browsed through their wines looking for the styles that I like. I created a wine “profile” that would recommend to me certain styles of wines based on my preferences. I found 12 bottles and placed them in my cart. I checked out and did only that. I did not opt into their Angel program until after I received my first case of wine.

When the wines arrived, I too, noticed that many were screw caps. Being once an investor in a synthetic cork company, I knew the issues with real corks and the high percentage of spoilage (cork taint) that occurs. The industry would just love to run out and change many of their wines to screw caps, but they didn’t for two reasons…

1) The uncorking of a bottle of wine is a tradition. It’s all about anticipation while the sommelier, with the white linen draped over his forearm, displaying the esteemed bottle of wine for your and your guests approval … the cutting of the foil … the angle of which the bottle is held as he (or she) gently presses the point of the corkscrew into the center of the cork … the turning and twisting … and then finally the pull … as the cork “pops” from the bottle’s firm and longing grip. It’s a presentation, an event (albeit small), a ceremony that holds tradition for many, many years. Screw caps don’t have that ceremony. They aren’t much different than opening a bottle of Diet Coke. The winemakers know that ceremony is an integral part of enjoying a nice wine and screw caps aren’t yet accepted by the American public at large.

2) There is some concern about aging fine wines under a screw cap. Some believe that any amount of oxygen will hurt the wine and others believe that just that little hint of oxygen over the many years helps the wine to fulfill it’s destiny as a balanced symphony of fermented grape juice.

If you do some research you will see that many countries and wineries have embraced the screw cap. New Zealand, for example, produces world-class Sauvignon Blancs. Every NZ SB that I have ever opened had a screw cap and these are not crap wines. Of course, this is just my opinion and I wouldn’t mind arguing this and much more on this subject all day long.

Enough about corks and screw caps. Back to http://nakedwines.com … I received my first case, and in less than three weeks tasted every bottle. Many of them I reviewed and posted on the http://nakedwines.com forum. It was fun to interact with others and their reviews comparing notes along the way. As I rated the wines, the recommendations became more focused for my specific tastes. I once asked a professed wine critic “What is the best wine?” His response was, “The best wine is whichever one YOU like.” That has stuck with me throughout the years as an important point in my role as a wine snob.

I looked at the http://nakedwines.com program some more and decided to become an angel and to order another case of $8 wine. Roughly the average angel price. They took $40 from my credit card and I immediately applied that $40 to another case of 12 bottles. My total paid with tax was about $110 with free shipping. Okay, that’s more like $9 a bottle, but from my prior case, they were worth it for a couple of reasons. It’s not a wine club where the WINEMAKER decides what to ship you. Nakedwines.com gives you the opportunity to choose your styles of wine andeven wines from a variety of wineries and countries. It’s delivered to your door speedily and free of charge. They have a 100% guarantee on all their wines. Try that next time you return a bottle of wine at your local store.

I’ve since ordered over 100 bottles of http://nakedwines.com wines. Some are screw top, some are with cork, some are okay, but most are worth the price you pay and decent wines. Through the http://nakedwines.com program, you do come across some really good wines, but a good deal of them are made for quaffing (drinking now and lots of it!). For me, that was what I was looking for. I already have a cellar full of $40+ bottles of red aging for that special day, but for now… I want something to drink tonight!

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Guest

The worst offender here isn’t at all Naked Wines or even Majecstic Wines the worst merchant is Laithwaites Wine formally known as Direct Wines & Bordeaux Direct

This company is all about money and has a total disregard for it’s customers. Most of Laithwaites wine’s customer are of the matured generation.

They heavily market £50 off a case of wine but this is very sneaky and shady marketing as they seem to miss out the part where this means you sign yourself up to receive a case every 8 weeks – 12 weeks and have your card debited before its delivered. In doing this it means when you call up to complain they apologise and say as a level of courtesy I will offer you £17.99 off the cost of the case which is around £97.98 for me this is an appalling way to operate as a company.

They mislead you with the amount you are saving and when you cancel the plan they say this has been done yet you receive another case a few weeks later and your card charged again. If you cancel you card to stop them charging it they still send the wine and then send threatening letters saying that the balance needs to be paid.

Absolute scam! Avoid at all costs