LAPADA raised the alarm over 'EU Company Directory' after what appears to be a Utrecht-based outfit approached one of their Belgian members. It is not clear if anyone in the UK has received a similar mailshot, but those who have dealt with this issue before believe it is only a matter of time before they do.
Just like the scam guides, the form sent through the post or emailed has the appearance of simply asking the recipient to update their details - in this case for inclusion in an internet and printed directory of EU companies.
The top of the form gives conflicting messages: the larger message, set in bold type in a panel, asks recipients to "fill in the form completely"; it appears below another message which also tells the readers in bold type that "Updating is free of charge", but goes on to advise in ordinary type, "Only sign if you want to place an insertion".
Most concerning are the details listed in the small print at the bottom of the form, which follow an almost identical pattern to the 'FAIRGuide' and 'European City Guide', which have blighted many dealers over the past decade.
Under the heading 'Order', the terms and conditions reveal that what is actually being signed is a legally binding contract for advertising for a period of three years at €995 a year, with the subscription being automatically renewed each year after that "unless specific written notice is received by the service provider or the subscriber two months before the expiration of the subscription".
Yet again, the conditions stipulate that "the place of jurisdiction in any dispute arising is the service provider's address", preventing the directory being pursued under the domestic laws of the countries to which those who have been conned belong. The service provider is listed as being EU BUSINESS SERVICES LTD.
The form also directs recipients to their website at www.eucompanydirectory.com for terms and conditions.
A visit to the website soon shows just how useless it is as the directory cannot be browsed at all. Instead, users have to search by company name or contact details - but as these are all that tend to be published in such listings, it means that users will need to know in advance almost all the information published by the directory in order to use it.
Needless to say, campaigning watchdog stopecg.org have already flagged up EU Company Directory as a problem.
"We first became aware of this lot in September 2005," they say on their website. "Early 2006 saw the first complaints from companies who felt misled and had begun to receive demands for money."
Their investigations have revealed that the Utrecht address appears to be no more than a holding address, with trade actually being conducted from the tax haven of Nevis in the West Indies.
While stopecg.org say they cannot give legal advice on what to do, they assess the form as follows:
• EU Company Directory has many companies on its books who have, or are disputing the validity of its contracts.
• As this company is new we do not know yet what 'debt collection' process they will attempt, or if they will try to enforce a contract in court.
• Based on past rulings against similar documents, this contract would almost certainly fail to stand up in a court; however, you must accept that as it has not been challenged yet there is a small risk involved with refusal to pay.
By Ivan Macquisten