It has come to SEMA's attention that some SEMA members have received a one-page notice offering a "free" listing in The Fair Guide operated by Construct Data Verlag (also known as Construct Data AG) based in Austria. However, the small print at the bottom of the page notes that by signing and returning the document, you have entered into a three-year, non-retractable contract to pay up to $1,000 a year for the listing.
Example of Fair Guide solicitation:
Some companies may be using misleading advertising to convince you to sign a contract for a listing in a catalog or online directory. Here is how it works: a group collects your company's name and mailing address from the Yellow Pages or other publication. That group then sends you a one-page form asking you to provide supplemental information (phone, fax, e-mail, etc.) for your "FREE" listing in their guide (in the fine print at the bottom of the page however, it states that by signing and returning the form you have agreed to pay for the listing).
They argue that you have signed a legally-binding contract and will send you a collection letter several weeks later. If you don't pay, they continue to send dunning notices and threaten litigation.
SEMA recommends that you not complete these types of listing forms. While SEMA cannot provide advice on how to respond to collection tactics, we note the following:
With respect to The Fair Guide/Construct Data AG, many companies are disputing the validity of the contracts. The Austrian Advertising Council has found The Fair Guide mailings to be misleading and hence a breach of the Austrian Advertising Code. The Austrian government has therefore recommended that all affected companies withdraw from the contract with Fairguide.com due to error.
For this purpose, they have provided a specimen letter, based specifically on Austrian civil law, according to which, based on the agreement that Austria shall be the place where this can be applied.
To file a complaint in the United States, you may wish to contact:
Federal Trade Commission
Office of Business Fraud
600 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20580
You can also file a mail fraud complaint with the United States Postal Service here: www.usps.com/postalinspectors/fraud/MailFraudComplaint.htm.
The Austrian Government has also requested that any information or complaints also be forwarded to:
Dr. Martin Bartenstein
Minister of Economy and Work
Bundesminister für Wirtschaft und Arbeit (BMWA)
For more information, contact Stuart Gosswein at email@example.com.