Misleading marketing: "Criminals are very inventive, they try anything that works"

European businesses are losing billions of euros by paying for inclusion in business directories that are either fake or insignificant. They also get pestered by non-existing patent organisations or chambers of commerce. MEPs will vote on recommendations on how to fight these misleading marketing practices on 22 October during the plenary in Strasbourg. We talked to report author Cornelis de Jong, a Dutch member of the GUE/NGL group, about how the EU can help stop these scams.

Interview with Cornelis de Jong
Cornelis de Jong

This article was originally published on 27 September and has been republished because of the plenary vote on Tuesday 22 October.

What forms of misleading marketing practices is your report targeting?

All sorts. We avoided having a narrow definition, because criminals are very inventive. We can see very often fake bills for services never rendered. People paid for entries in false or insignificant business directories with automatic renewals. Then there came fake bills on behalf of chambers of commerce or patent registrations. They try anything that works.

Who are the victims and how much does it cost them?

They are mostly small businessmen, because once they have been cheated, they do not dare to do anything against it as they think they would look stupid. So they just pay.

And we are talking about billions of euros in the EU alone...

How can the EU help to stop such practices?

The EU has a role there.

The first thing is to establish a national focal point in each member state that takes up all the complaints and creates databases of all these practices with examples. Then we can get a European database. And not only a database of misleading practices, but also one of convicted companies that would then be disqualified from EU subsidies or procurement.

Secondly, public prosecutors should give this priority, because even if these are small amounts in individual cases, put together, they concern very large amounts of money.

Thirdly, we recommended involving Europol as they can make a good analysis of the situation.