Tuesday, June 17, 2008
An Open Letter to the owners of Expo-Guide
Having studied the forms currently being mailed by expo-guide and done comparisons with the forms formerly mailed by Construct Data Verlag (CDV) I have come to the conclusion that it is almost impossible that your forms were contrived without reference to Construct Data’s mailings
I fully accept that you may have accepted the design in complete innocence, that they it have been presented to you by a third party, and that as such this letter may represent your first warning of the problems these forms can cause.
A little history
CDVs forms were widely criticised, for over a decade the company profited from the fact that people would sign the forms in error, mistaking them for a communication from an exhibition organiser. CDV suffered numerous adverse rulings, both legal and from self regulatory organisations. When faced with such rulings they would amend the form slightly, but the aspects of the form which mislead were always maintained.
In early 2007 after a prolonged legal tussle with the Schutzverband gegen unlauteren Wettbewerb CDV found it necessary to modify their forms once again and the latest layout, (the layout to which expo-guides forms correspond) was conceived. I was in no doubt that the new form would mislead and I published an open letter to Wolfgang Valvoda, CEO of CDV telling him of my concerns and offering to assist in the design of a form that would not mislead
The letter went unanswered and the forms were indeed signed in error, in very large numbers. In November 2007 I was forced to publish a second open letter in which I concluded that Mr Valvoda was either remarkably inept or had set out with the intent to decieve, again he chose not to respond. Eventually the Schutzverband gegen unlauteren Wettbewerb forced deeper concessions from CDV who are now barred from mailing new forms from Austria.
Because CDV made concessions out of court the forms were never subjected to detailed scrutiny by a judge, which does not mean that they are legal!
The Forms you are mailing
So there you have it, expo-guide are in the position CDV found themselves in back in April 2007, you are mailing a form that I predict will be signed in error, you can fully expect that many who sign the new form will refuse to pay you.
You have clearly invested considerable money in this new project, with phone lines in six countries and a substantial website at http://www.expo-guide.com but your business model could be fatally flawed if you persist with the forms you are mailing at present.
Another Free offer
So once again I am willing to offer my time and experience to help your company design a form that cannot mislead, this offer comes with two provisos:
- I would expect you to accept that your initial mailshots were a mistake, and where people state that they signed in error you should offer them the opportunity to rescind the contract.
- That in accepting a new design you take it in its entirety and do not modify it or alter the meaning when translating into other languages
Should Expo-guide continue to mail the misleading forms and/or demand money from those who have signed in error it will be hard not to conclude that it is your intent to mislead people. In that instance stopECG will campaign against you with the same zeal CDV experienced.
Should you wish to reply to any part of this letter, please let me know, your reply will be published here for all readers to see.
Jules Woodell - 16th June 2008
See StopECGs Advice page regarding expo-guide
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
A Second Trip To Brusels
After a slow start, things have are on the move, Arlene McCarthy MEP has raised the matter in The Parliament, leading to a short debate. Commissioner Meglena Kuneva has written to member states that host guides and received responses from several, The Petitions and Internal markets Committees have both moved forward and Rapporteur, Simon Busuttil MEP, is starting to compile his report.
In short I arrived in a Brussels where there is a real head of steam on the matter and MEPs from all parties are showing determination that this scourge must be stopped. Do not thank me for this, thank your MEPs and most of all yourselves, everyone who has written to their MEP or petitioned the parliament has contributed, if you have not yet written, it is not too late, see the info at the end of this report
I got to the Accreditation centre at mid day, I was early and there was no pass for me but the problem was quickly resolved, I must compliment the way the staff of the committees work under considerable pressure, the agendas were constantly changing to fit with who could be present but at no time was I left in the dark as to what was going on.
Once inside I had 10 minutes to go over my presentation with Richard Corbett MEP, who has done so much to help over the years, then to meet Simon Busuttil, Rapporteur for the Petitions Committee, Mr Busuttil had obtained a copy of the printed European City Guide as a prop for the press conference and he and his assistant were busy thumbing the pages for Malta, They were clearly surprised at how many organisations they knew personally were listed.
It is a challenge I suggest any reader with a few minutes to spare takes up, visit
http://www.eurocityguide.com/ and look up your home town, see how many organisations that you know are listed. Now magnify that across the whole continent! Oh, and if you have the time, why not phone a few of those companies and see if they signed in error? If they did, please tell them about this campaign and get them to write letters of complaint.
After a quick look at the guide it was time to do the press conference.
You can read reports from the press conference here and here
Interview with Simon Busuttil conducted later the same day.
After The Press conference there was time for a quick coffee before hurrying down to the Petitions Committee. Vincenso had arrived from Italy, he is the instigator of the petition against the ECG, and he was also the first person to set up a website against the guide (way back in 2000).
Unfortunately the agenda was changed again to accommodate Irish petitioners who were in danger of missing their flights home and our presentations slipped towards the end of the day. I had just discovered that my presentation to the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) was on and the 2 were now in danger of overlapping
By the time we spoke our presentations were cut from 5 to 3 minutes, I scored out parts of my hard worked on speech but still got cut short before covering the main points I had on possible ways of partially extending the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive and on the need for a central advice website. Vincenso faired better and was able to give some good data on the numbers of people affected in Italy
MEPs were then given just one minute each
See my detailed notes on MEP responses
As soon as the debate was over I had to run to catch the IMCO, here at last a longer opportunity to explain how the guides operate, what EU laws might work against them and the possible pitfalls of using such laws against a wily opponent.
This committee is investigating in greater detail what mechanisms might be used to tackle the scam guide problem. As I was preparing answers for questions I have not managed to make full notes on the proceedings.
The main questions received covered:
- How Chambers of Commerce could help,
- The problems raised by regional governments having responsibility rather than national governments,
- How well cross border cooperation had worked in the past,
- Possible use of Class actions
There were also useful suggestions on upcoming acts in the parliament and how they might help as well as the use of Self Regulatory Organisations (SROs)
What was most striking about returning to Brussels was the breadth and depth of MEPs understanding of the problem and the very clear cross-party resolve that these scams need to be stopped.
If you are affected by any of the guides listed on stopecg.org or by another business to business directory scam based in Europe, please make sure MEPs and the Commissioner are aware of your plight. Here is how.
What should you write?
StopECG encourages people complaining about the guides to send a short letter explaining your experiences, include comments on how this has affected you financially and emotionally. Has it caused strains within an organisation because one person signed in error and others must deal with the fallout? Have you lost sleep over the matter? Have you paid the guide and/or paid for legal advice? Have you suffered abusive phone calls from sham debt collection outfits?
With the letter please send scans of your correspondence with the guides/debt collectors and replies from national governments and or local authorities. If you feel a national or regional authority has replied in an unsatisfactory manner please flag that up in your covering letter.
and click the link for your country, you should then see a link in the top tabs for ‘Your MEP’, or ‘Your Representative’ Click this link and you will get a map of Europe.
(Lost? Here is the Map in English)
On the map, Click your country,
Some Countries list MEPs by region, navigate to your region and write to All MEPs who represent the region (Yes, there may be several)
Other countries list MEPs without noting the area that elected them, in this instance you may need to contact one at random and ask their assistance in letting you know which MEPs you should write to.
Non EU Residents complaining about scam guides based within the EU should write direct to the commissioner:
DG Health and Consumer Protection
Please CC your letter to the Rapporteur
Simon Busuttil MEP,
60 rue Wiertz,
For general advice on writing letters of complaint please visit the main Stopecg website
Jules Woodell, 3rd June 2008