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90 Maltese firms caught in advertising scam

Simon Busuttil (left) and Jules Woodell at the European Parliament yesterday.

Simon Busuttil (left) and Jules Woodell at the European Parliament yesterday.

Ninety Maltese organisations including Bank of Valletta, Vodafone, the University of Malta and Super One TV were among thousands of European companies conned into taking "free" advertising in a scam that is being looked into by the European Parliament.

Later, the companies were asked to pay a hefty fee under threat of legal action, although no action was eventually taken against those who refused. Others, however, had already paid up.

Jules Woodell - one of the victims of this scam who is lobbying the Parliament to take action - said that Malta was one of the most badly hit countries in the scam.

"It seems that small countries were targeted and many businesses in Malta fell into this trap," he said.

Nationalist MEP Simon Busuttil has been asked to draw up a report on the case for the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament. He explained yesterday that the committee had received more than 400 complaints alleging abuse and misleading business practices by a Spanish company producing a business directory known as the European City Guide.

Speaking during a press conference at the European Parliament in Brussels, Dr Busuttil said the Spanish company has for the past years been conducting an intensive campaign targeting small businesses around Europe. The firms were asked to sign up in order to promote their services on the guide, having been led to believe that this would be free of charge.

After a few months, however, the ECG asked those businesses who had signed up for a hefty payment for the subscription. "Surprisingly, businesses were told they had signed a three-year contract and had to pay €900 a year for the advert promoting their organisations and which was already appearing on the ECG."

He said the small print of what they signed had stipulated payment and the European City Guide insisted they would be taken to court if they failed to pay.

Dr Busuttil called this practice an outright scam and a clear case of abuse. "It is clear that EU rules related to misleading advertising were abused and we need to put a stop to this. Although the EU has a directive prohibiting misleading advertising it is still not enforced in all the 27 member states and the company behind the city guide is taking advantage of this situation."

His report will focus on the need to raise awareness about this scam and making sure that the EU Council and the Commission ask member states to be on the lookout for such scams.

"The European City Guide is just one example," Dr Busuttil emphasised. "There are about 400 similar schemes currently going on in Europe."

Mr Woodell has set up a website ( www.stopecg.org ) dedicated to raising awareness of the case.

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