Small businesses in the UK have been hit by a number of advertising scams – but at last the European Commission is doing something about it. This is good news for dealers of fine furniture, such as antique desks, in Cumbria and Lancashire.

Antiques Trade Gazette is the official media “voice” for the antiques industry – an area heavily targeted by scammers, owing to the reliance on specialist directory listings. While many of these directories are legit, many more are not. Over the last 13 years, ATG has built up a lengthy dossier of advertising fraud cases. The ruse is simple: members receive a form asking them to confirm their business details in return for a free directory listing, when in reality they are signing up to an outrageously expensive 3-year advertising contract.

While many of these forms are thrown straight in the bin next to the antique mahogany pedestal desk, around 20% of dealers actually fall for the con. Any attempt to cancel the arrangement – which was never knowingly signed up for in the first place is ignored, and victims are then subjected to endless threats and demands for money from so-called debt collectors “employed” by the scammers.

With so many antiques dealers in Lancashire and Cumbria selling antique cabinets and Victorian dining chairs online, the scammers are more active than ever. The most notorious offender is ECG (European City guide), which despite being raided by Swiss police in 2009 continues to operate. The European Parliament is now introducing new laws to combat business directory fraud – not before time.

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