From correspondence I’ve had with constituents recently, it seems that an old scam has resurfaced. It was previously known as the European City Guide, but seems to have recently reinvented itself as the “United Kingdom Industry Commerce Directory”.
Under various names, this shady organisation sends an official-looking form to small businesses, voluntary organisations and even charities, asking them to update their details for some kind of database. The suggestion is that the company will then use these details to update a Europe-wide business directory.
This is not the case. The directory never comes into existence, but a few weeks after signing, the victims receive the first of several letters demanding payment of many hundreds of euros for ‘updating’ their details — a requirement that was hidden in the small print of the misleading form.
Any business that doesn’t immediately pay up then receives a series of increasingly threatening letters, first from the scam company, then from its supposed debt collectors and lawyers. Of course, many businesses — especially small businesses — assume that the mistake is theirs, or are scared by the threat of legal action, and eventually pay up.
The scammers were previously based in Barcelona and Valencia, but they move on whenever they are in danger of getting found out, reinventing themselves with a different company name in a different region or country.
Now, I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t give legal advice. If you have signed a form, you must make your own decision about whether to pay. But you should know that UK and EU authorities consider these letters to be fraudulent.
If you have been contacted by this company or by anything similar, here are my suggestions:
- Don’t be intimidated. Despite the threats, I’ve never heard of anyone being taken to court for non-payment. In fact, in 2007, 400 Belgian businesses took the European City Guide to court and it was fined a quarter of a million euros for misleading publicity, fraud and attempted fraud.
- Report any misleading letters you receive via the UK police anti-fraud website.
- Finally, if you have received one of these letters and you live in Yorkshire & Humber, please do let me know. If you live elsewhere in the UK, write to your local Labour MEP.
When these scams first appeared about 10 years ago, I worked hard to raise awareness and push for strengthened EU-wide legislation to stop them. I am deeply concerned that they seem to be resurfacing, and I will do my best to support those affected.