Wednesday, January 18, 2006

An update on the campaign to halt the now infamous Europe-wide mailing scam that calls itself the 'European City Guide'. The last time I posted about this, it was good news: the international campaign against the ECG was starting to bear fruit, with police seizing evidence from the offices of a parent company in Switzerland and a criminal investigation underway.

Since then, there have been several developments. Firstly, the ECG scam turns out to be closely linked with a number of other scams, including 'Novachannel AG' and 'Construct Data' – in fact, a Swiss newspaper has recently uncovered that they are all owned by the same man! (Link to pay-only archive section of newspaper site.)

Secondly, and more worryingly, those people behind the scam have been concentrating their efforts on silencing those who are attempting to expose them. Their most recent step has been to target the main advice website for victims of the scam, entitled 'Stop the European City Guide'. Since 2001, this site has offered advice and support to thousands of companies across the UK on what to do if they are targeted by scammers. Site author Jules Woodell estimates that having an online support forum such as this has saved British firms hundreds of thousands of pounds in payments to organisations such as the ECG.

This isn't the first time that the 'Stop the European City Guide' site has been targeted by those it tries to expose. The method of bullying has changed, but the objective remains the same. In 2003, the site was successfully defended against an attempt by the ECG to silence it by making allegations of copyright infringement.

This time around, the strategy is different. Novachannel AG has employed a UK law firm to get the website shut down. Rather than contacting those involved in the site, the lawyers instead send threatening letters to the internet service provider which hosts the site. This hosting company plays no part in the campaign to expose the scams, so it has no reason to stand up to the threats. The result is that the website (www.stopecg.org) has been temporarily shut down.

What's so frustrating about this situation is that those people who campaign to expose the ECG and related scams would welcome a court case. Every time it's come to court (in both Germany and Spain), the courts have recognised the scam and ruled against the ECG. But, by bullying internet service providers rather than taking on the campaign itself, the scammers have found a way to silence their opponents without risking a court action.

These companies pose real threats to Yorkshire businesses, dozens of whom have been duped in the past. After 5 years of campaigning, I'm not about to give up. A major step would be to get the support website back online; the campaign continues…