Always read the small print...

In 2003 Barcelona-based European City Guide (ECG) was shut down for one year and fined more than £200,000 for mail outs which gave the impression that inclusion in their directory was free.

But, as hundreds of businesses discovered, buried in the small print it said that firms which signed and returned the form were committed to paying thousands of pounds for the entries and a copy of the guide.

The Office of Fair Trading received more than 280 complaints and in conjunction with Catalan authorities pursued the company, which was eventually found to have infringed EU advertising laws.

However, this week the FSB has received proof that ECG is once more targeting small businesses with misleading mail shots.

The company has relocated to Valencia and designed a new form which explains that ECG is compiling information for a CD Rom and asks for businesses to confirm their details.

Like previous mail shots it prompts the recipient to check the information on the form and return it for a free update.

But once again small print at the foot of the page reveals that if you sign the form you are agreeing to be inserted in the next three editions of the guide at a cost of 917 Euros or about £611 for each version.

FSB International Affairs Chairman Tina Sommer said: "The ever increasing paper chase and a lack of dedicated administrative departments mean small employers have little time to go through all their mail with a fine tooth comb. Unfortunately, this makes them targets for companies like ECG.

"The FSB advises small businesses to make sure they always read the small print before they sign anything. If they are ever in any doubt they should contact the local trading standards office."


12th August 2004

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