Exclusive:

Exclusive: Tory chairman rocked by 'get rich quick' probe

Advertising watchdog launches investigation into Grant Shapps' family business

The company founded by the Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps is to be investigated by the advertising watchdog after he was found to have been posing as a web guru named Michael Green to sell get-rich-quick advice over the internet.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has begun an investigation into an allegation that the business has misled the public by presenting "Michael Green" as a genuine businessman with a personal fortune of $28m (£17m) who was happy to reveal the secrets of his success and personal wealth – for a fee.

In fact, Mr Shapps – whom David Cameron recently appointed to the Cabinet – used to adopt the identity to front his business interests, which he said was a way to keep them separate from his political life. The watchdog's probe is embarrassing for the Tory chairman as he prepares to open the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham this weekend.

The ASA confirmed to The Independent yesterday that it had launched an investigation under the Advertising Code into HowToCorp.com, the company Mr Shapps co-founded and ran before passing his share of it to his wife Belinda, a Conservative activist, in 2008. He said he has had no involvement in the company since then.

The ASA said that it will also probe testimonies that endorsed the claims of Green and another supposed successful businessman, "Sebastian Fox", to see whether or not they are genuine.

"The complainant has challenged whether the website is misleading because it implies Sebastian Fox and Michael Green are successful businessmen whereas they believe neither are real people, and whether the testimonials are genuine," a spokesman for the ASA confirmed.

Mr Shapps has dismissed allegations of deception, saying that he used the alias Michael Green to keep his business and political careers distinct.

A key focus of the ASA investigation will be whether the claims made by HowToCorp's Green, who has told potential customers of his $28m fortune and ownership of two high-end luxury aircraft and offered to disclose his business tips in the advice manuals advertised by the firm, are misleading.

The Shapps family's self-help business has come under scrutiny since photographs were found of the future MP and Cabinet minister attending a $3,000-a-head conference in a Las Vegas hotel showing him wearing a badge with the name Michael Green.

Following his election as a Tory MP in 2005 and his subsequent promotion into Mr Cameron's Shadow Cabinet, the alias was used on the website and for advice sessions that charged callers $300 an hour. In 2007, under the identity of Green, Mr Shapps reportedly claimed that audiences could "make $20,000 in 20 days guaranteed or your money back" if they bought his software for $200. Since 2008 his wife has owned the company. Although registered in Pinner, north London, HowToCorp also advertises an address in Pennsylvania. It is now branded as "Sebastian Fox's HowToCorp".

The ASA says it wants to determine if both Michael Green and Seb Fox are "genuine businessmen and real people". Sanctions that could apply if the ASA were to find the company to have breached the Advertising Code include: an order to remove paid-for advertising; being named and shamed for failing compliance orders; and the potential to refer the matter to the Office of Fair Trading for legal proceedings under consumer-protection laws.

Mr Shapps told a local journalist in his Welwyn Garden City constituency yesterday that the complaint received by the ASA was "spurious".

The ASA said afterwards: "We will investigate because we wish to establish whether there is a problem." The timing of the ASA's enquiries, on the eve of the Conservative Party's annual conference, is embarrassing for Mr Shapps as he is one of its hosts and key figures. He will jointly open proceedings this Sunday with an address, alongside co-chairman Andrew Feldman.

Google last month blacklisted a network of websites run by Mr Shapps' family for supposed breaches of its rules on copyright.

A Tory spokesman said: "Mr Shapps hasn't been involved with this company for four-and-a-half years. These websites are no longer online and any blogger can make a complaint about any website which then has to be investigated. This is in the hands of the ASA."

A spokeswoman for Mr Shapps said: "Grant Shapps derives no income, dividends, or other income from this business, which is run by his wife Belinda with a registered office in Pinner in north-west London. He is simply not involved in this business. Mrs Shapps runs her own online business, uses freelancers, moderators and programmers to post on forums, generate products and maintain a help desk." Mrs Shapps previously declined to comment.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
people70-year-old was most famous for 'You are So Beautiful'
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballLatest score and Twitter updates
Life and Style
fashionOne man takes the hipster trend to the next level
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
tech
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'