I received this mailer through the post this morning, address to the company for which I work for. It states that our details will be included into the European City Guide, and that “Filling in this form would give you the opportunity to be published in our inter-professional Guide on the CD-Rom and Internet”.

There are the standard spaces to change and modify your details, and a box at the bottom to date and sign. What they only tell you in the small print is that by signing it you are entering into a legal contract to  pay Euro 997 per year for the privilege. All the terms and conditions are laid out on the reverse, but they are printed so faintly I struggled to read them.

File0002A quick look on the Internet would suggest that far to many people simply fill this out, sign it and send it back! My apologies if you have already done this, but it’s amazing that scams like this are still so wide-spread and successful! This particular one come from an address in Portugal.

So – please be aware!

Update 7th September 2010

I have have today received several emails from ECG asking for this page, and the comments to be removed as they consider them ‘defamatory’. I have duly refused to do that. I believe that they are valid feedback and that the ECG should take note of their ‘customer’ feedback. We shall see what happens.

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Update 24th November 2010

It’s worth noting that following the requests that I got from the ECG to remove this page, I have not had any further communication with them. They did not reply to my response; which, I think goes some way to understanding these people. It’s all about the threats. The threats to pay, the threats of further action and even further costs.

I think that the overwhelming advise from all the people that have had some involvement with these people is to ignore them. Hopefully most people will see this for what it is; but for those that have been caught out my advice is to stand your ground and refuse to pay. At worst seek legal advice if you feel that the form was filled out in error and they are pursuing you for payment.

Update 19th January 2011

I thought that I would attach a letter that was received by one of my readers, from their MEP. I attach it with their permission and in full. I have highlighted some areas that I feel are of importance.

Dear Mike,

Thank you for contacting me about the European City Guide scam. I was sorry to hear that you have been targeted by this organisation. A number of attempts to halt these scams are underway at national and European level.

In my view, you are quite correct not to have paid any money to the ECG. The ‘contract’ that you were tricked into signing has been judged as deceptive by several national authorities across the European Union, including the UK’s Office of Fair Trading. For this reason, although the ECG and its sister debt collection companies will continue to bully and threaten their victims, they have never been known to take anyone to court in the UK. Another strategy of theirs is to offer a discount as a ‘gesture of goodwill’; many victims have been tricked into paying this reduced amount, but have subsequently found that even this is not enough to end the harassment.

There has been progress on this issue in the Parliament. The Petitions Committee in the parliament has drafted a Report (Maltese MEP Simon Busuttil is the rapporteur) on the ECG which was approved in December by a massive majority. Meanwhile, the Internal Market and Consumer Protection committee has also conducted a study into the issue and an Opinion to the Busuttil report. The Commission have acknowledged the extent of the problem and have promised to urge Member States to enforce the Misleading Advertising Directive more rigorously and, perhaps, propose amendments to the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive to specifically tackle ECG-style business to business scams.

However, there are still problems. Firstly, the Commission regards the ECG’s way of working as business-to-business transactions, which means victims are not protected by consumer protection laws. Secondly, there is EU legislation which can and has been used to prosecute the ECG and its sister groups but there has been no real consistent consensus throughout Europe. Whereas Belgium and Austria have found against the ECG, and the Catalan High Court has closed their office down, the authorities in Valencia have tolerated their behaviour. Austria currently has the strongest position against the scams and both the Busuttil report and my colleague Catherine Stihler MEP, Member of the Internal Market Committee, recommend that all EU countries agree the Austrian model should be a common position in Europe.

In October 2009 my Labour colleague Catherine Stihler MEP asked the Competition Commissioner, Meglena Kuneva, to keep pursuing this issue until a way to resolve it is found. Commissioner Kuneva has reassured my colleague that the ECG scam is something which she will not give up on, and she continues to hold meetings to bring about an end to the practice.

Along with my Labour colleagues, I will continue to make representations on this issue at a European level. In the meantime, my advice is as follows:

- Do not pay.

- Contact the Consumer Protection Directorate in Valencia, Spain, where ECG is based, and ask for your contract to be cancelled. Contact details are at http://www.stopecg.org/.

- If the ECG or their debt collection companies continue to harass you, tell them that you are considering legal action against them under European directives on misleading advertising.

Please keep me informed of any further developments.

Best wishes

Glenis Willmott MEP

Update 28th February 2011

There’s also a UK Action Fraud helpline which has been setup, which has been getting some airtime recently which I thought that I would include in this article. For more information take a look at http://www.actionfraud.org.uk/report_fraud

Update 2nd March 2011

Joselyne Reid very kindly contacted me, after contacting her MEP about this scam, and has very kindly offered the letter that she received for posting. You can this here. Thanks Jo!