European City Guide Scam

23 October 2008
SNP Member of the European Parliament for Scotland Mr Alyn Smith has highlighted an investigation by the European Parliament into the "European City Guide" scam and launched a campaign to make Scots businesses aware of the dangers under the slogan "Don't sign, don't get caught out".

He has published advice on his website, together with a case study of a pharmacy in Lenzie which was caught out, in order to warn other businesses of the dangers.

The scam typically involves small businesses being tricked into signing up to contracts for inclusion in worthless "city guides" and thereby incurring bills of hundreds if not thousands of pounds in inflated advertising costs. The fraudsters then threaten legal action in the expectation that some of their victims will pay up in an attempt to make them go away. As the police draw near they simply collapse their companies in one location only to set up again in another.

Mr Smith has seen a number of cases of Scots businesses being caught out, and has long called for strict criminal penalties for the fraudsters as currently they are only subject to civil penalties, depending upon the jurisdiction.

Thousands of European businesses are caught out every year, and the European Parliament's inquiry should recommend strong penalties. Meantime, Smith has urged Scots businesses to get in touch with him with their own experiences.

Smith said:

"The "European City Guide" scam is as old as the hills but still we see many Scots businesses being caught out each year.

"The legal situation is not as clear as it could be, so the Parliament's inquiry is welcome, especially as it seems to be seriously considering criminal sanctions for the fraudsters.

"However, the best advice remains to avoid being caught out at all, so we have published guidance on the website and put together the case study of a real Scots business which was caught out.

"When Willie Wilson got in touch there was a real familiarity to his story, so I'm glad we have been able to give him a degree of reassurance but I hate to think how many other businesses have been caught out."

Willie Wilson, a Pharmacy owner from Lenzie, added:

"I am delighted that Alyn Smith has been able to bring this to the attention of the European Parliament and get something done to stop it."Sadly many traders gave in to this outrageous scam and paid up to get peace! In my case and I believe many others, the address line shown was deliberately erroneous, thus subtly encouraging the victim to return the form to rectify the "mistake".

"There followed a demand for payment and a long series of letters and phone calls threatening court action to extort the 900 euros."

Read Alyn's notes on European City Guide Scam campaign (Word doc - 120Kb)