NO issue has caused more reader complaints to ATG in the past decade than scam guides targeting the trade. Now there is a chance to put a stop to them by signing up to a Europe-wide campaign.
ATG have already submitted a plea to the European Parliament to change the law to give businesses the same protection as consumers. Now it’s your turn. Details of how to go about it are set out on page 3.
As the many readers who have fallen victim to the guides will know, the trouble starts with the arrival on the doormat of a form that appears to ask them to confirm their details for a free listing. In fact, it is really an attempt to con them into signing up for expensive, pointless and unwanted advertising. Those who sign are then subjected to months – and sometimes years – of threats and demands for money.
Campaigners advise that despite constant threats of legal action, against anyone who fails to pay the fees they demand, they have still never taken anyone to court for refusing to pay money on their disputed contracts. This concurs with the ATG’s own investigations into the scam.
“They probably never will as all their contracts have been ruled as deceptive and they stand little chance in a court of law. Their tactic remains one of threats and bluff, coercing the most vulnerable into paying,” say the campaigners.
The two most active companies operating the scams are the Austrian-based FAIRGuide and the Valencia-based European City Guide. Both have had legal rulings made against them but continue to ply their trade.
A fair organiser in France recently failed in their court claim that FAIRGuide were passing themselves off as the official guide to the event.
FAIRGuide, run by Construct Data Verlag AG, are now attempting to use this ruling to claim validity for their forms, despite an Austrian advertising standards ruling against them, and despite them ignoring the authorities’ demands that they change the forms.
Their debt recovery agency, Premium Recovery, are now issuing threats quoting EC Council Regulation No 44/2001, concerning the jurisdiction of legal claims.
This is an attempt to get round their own contract terms that stipulate Mödel, their base in Austria, as the sole legal venue for dispute. They argue that Article 21 under the regulation gives them the right to chase the debt in English courts if necessary.
However, the court in the country of jurisdiction must be satisfied that the defendant has been informed of the pending action in good time – something Premium Recovery do not do. If the court is not so satisfied, it is unlikely to hear the case. In addition, as the scam guides have ignored legal rulings telling them to change their forms and have been the subject of numerous complaints from the Office of Fair Trading, it is difficult to see how they could win satisfaction in an English court.
Campaigners give advice on how to deal with the agencies should matters go any further – although to date they have heard of no such case.
In his submission to the European parliament, ATG editor Ivan Macquisten told the European Parliament: “For the past seven years I have received complaint after complaint from antiques dealers about being conned by European City Guide and Construct Data Verlag GmbH, otherwise known as FAIRGuide.
“I have reported on the fraudulent activities of these companies on numerous occasions, noting that they have ignored any legal rulings to alter their behaviour.
“The anxiety and suffering caused to many of my readers over the years by intimidation from these organisations is even more of a concern than the potentially considerable costs that they believe they face.
“In my 20 years as a journalist, I have never had so many complaints on a single subject as this. I have a thick file of correspondence from victims and a wealth of news reports as evidence of their negative impact on the art and antiques trade, which I would be happy to make available if it would help.
“I have done what little I can to prevent my readers from falling victim to these merchants of misery but feel now that the European Parliament must intervene as a matter of urgency.”
Every name added to the petition will improve its chances of success. ATG urge any reader who has suffered at the hands of these guides to spare a few minutes of their time. All they have to do is to log onto the website www.stopecg.org and follow the instructions.
“History has shown that those tempted to let the matter slide often find themselves the target of the guides again a year or two later,” warned Mr Macquisten.
“Succeeding at European level may be a long process, but, short of direct Government intervention, this is probably our best chance to get something done.”