Expo Guide is an international organisation based in Mexico that deceives people into signing up to their online expo directory at www.expo-guide.com before sending them an extortionate bill. Thousands worldwide have fallen for this scam.
EXPO GUIDE is an online business directory that you can find at www.expo-guide.com. It is run by a company called Expo Guide, S. de R.L. de C.V., based in Mexico, which sends out an innocent looking directory application form to companies world-wide that are exhibiting at business expo events of all types.
Here is their website:
This company's details are as follows:
Expo Guide, S. de R.L. de C.V.
Ave Horacio # 340 -3
Col. Chapultepec Morales
C.P. 11570 Mexico D.F.
Fax: + 52 (55) 26 24 26 97
A more recent PO Box address that is also used is the following. It appears that both addresses are used, the one above as the legal office and the one below to correspond with scam victims:
Apartado Postal No 39-064
C.P. 15621 Mexico D.F.
tel: +52 (55) 52 62 19 99
fax: +52 (55) 10 84 26 28
Here is an example of the letter sent out by Expo Guide in 2006 to a natural health company in the UK, forwarded to us, that was timed to arrive shortly before the Natural Trade Show in that country:
(The address of the business to which this form was sent and other identifying details for all scanned forms on this page have been blurred out.)
Looking at that letter, most people would naturally assume that this is a directory listing for the Natural Trade Show itself, and that it was free. So Expo Guide is passing themselves off as a free online guide connected with the particular show itself, one that is contacting customers merely to make sure their contact details are up-to-date. It is only at the end of the letter that they sneak in: "Should you wish to place an order for a payable insertion please use the attached order form. Modifying data free of charge can only be done online."
And here is another Expo Guide sent out in 2010 to a company exhibiting at an instrumentation conference also in the UK:
Notice that the legal name of the scamming organisation in Mexico at the bottom of these letters has changed: in 2006 it was Commercial Online Manuals whereas in 2010 it has become just Expo Guide. By making the legal name generic as well makes this scam more difficult to spot.
Notice that the word "free" in these letters is underlined and that the commercial branding is so generic as to be effectively invisible. They do state that "Expo Guide is independent, objective and not affiliated to any organiser or marketing association," but by sandwiching the word "organiser" between descriptions that could apply to any legitimate exposition organiser, again the truth is hidden.
A sign-up form is sent with this letter along with a pre-paid envelop. The address on the envelop is not in Mexico for European recipients (that would ring too many alarm bells), although it can be for US recipients. Addresses include:
Expo - Guide
DAIC - OPS / AUTHORISATION 0832
95919 ROISSY CH DE GAULLE CEDEX 9
PO Box 466
Apartado Postal Nr 39-064
C.P. 15621 Mexico D.F.
Now here is the form that is sent along with the introductory letter above. You will notice it has no branding. This particular one is a few years old — the newer ones have Expo Guide as the legal name on the bottom left of the form, again to further increase the deception.
In this example, you can see that the invisible branding passes the form off as one that seems to be directly associated with the Natural Trade Show. In fact, the reason this scam works so well is that the scammers have chosen a totally generic company name — Expo Guide — which hides the fact that the organisation has nothing to do with the particular exposition listed on the paperwork.
Most people exhibiting at business expositions around the world are sent a lot of different forms like these to fill out by the expo-show organisers, including directory listings. So it is very easy for Expo Guide, with its invisible branding and deceptive layout, to con a percentage of recipients, lulled into a sense of false security by the visibility of the real expo organisers name and the invisibility of the scammers identity, into signing these forms.
Here is an example of a more recent form sent to exhibitors in the Ukraine. Notice that they have put Expo-Guide branding in at the top, but as a shaded background image that one does not notice. Anyone glancing at this letter would assume it is from the organisation and address printed at the top — ENERGOPROM — not some hidden company hiding with a generic name shown as a shaded background image:
(The yellow highlighting of the price on the above form has been added for emphasis.)
What the Expo Guide scammers appear to be doing a lot now is sending these forms to countries where English is not the primary language (such as the Ukraine example above), making it even easier for them to deceive their victims.
Notice the "stamp, legally binding signature" label at the place to sign the form. By putting "stamp" first they downplay the second "legally binding signature" bit. (Whoever put this scam together certainly knows scam psychology!)
If you do read the small print, then you will see that you are signing up to on online directory that is nothing to do with the particular exposition listed, and which you are agreeing to pay, in this case, €1181.00 per year for a minimum of a 3-year contract. Not only that, if you do not cancel in writing within 3 months before your 3 years is up, you will have another year to pay and another after that until you cancel in writing.
Also notice that they state in the fine print that you have a ten-day cooling-off period from the date of submission, but most people will first hear of this scam (because of the deceptive way it is done) when they receive their first invoice after that ten-day period has passed, and we even have reports from people who have tried to cancel in good time but were told that their cancellation missed the deadline.
Expo Guide try to legitimize their scam by doing the whole legal bit in faint small grey type on the back of the form you are signing. Here is the back of this one which we have had to modify with a graphics program (raise contrast and adjust the gamma) so that you can see anything at all. (Without these graphic adjustments, the scan below is illegible.)
And here is another more recent example (again with graphic enhancement, otherwise it would be too difficult to read here):
This is just further deception to make sure that the unwitting recipient does not realize what he or she is signing up for.
When the form is filled out and sent off in the postage-prepaid envelope, a few weeks later you will receive a letter like this one along with an invoice and a credit card payment form:
And below is the invoice that they send you. For 95% of people who fell for this con, this is probably the first they realize that the whole thing is a money scam.
Volksbank Slovensko in Slovakia, and all other banks around the world hosting Expo Guide accounts, should be ashamed of themselves for helping these scammers collect their money. We urge you to write to these banks explaining why you think it unethical that they host Expo Guide accounts.
And here we have the payment form:
From here on, if you miss the payment deadline, you will receive a reminder invoice that has acrued interest:
Notice the words "contract terms" and "obligations" have been underlined to try to make you feel bad not paying. This is necessary manipulation for them as they know they do not have a legal leg to stand on. The contract with them was obtained by deception, which makes it unenforceable in court. But this does not stop them trying to play a dud hand.
Finally, you will start to receive correspondence from their "Legal Department" such as the following examples:
The first is a relatively soft letter, the first line in a barrage of abuse. This "it is not our fault" tone seems to be a new tactic to cajole the victim into paying through guilt, trying to legitimize their scam before a strong barrage of more forceful letters threatening debt collection. The scammers probably realize that being too forceful too early makes payment less likely, so the softly softly hands-in-the-air reasoned approach seems to be the new first step.
The letter has no legal basis and is factually full of lies. For example, "both our letterhead design and the content of our correspondence clearly indicate the accuracy and independence of our services" is an obvious lie (see scans above which show how branding is hidden). Their whole scam is based on deception, and their "Legal Department" (wink,wink) knows this, which is why the contract is unenforcable in a court of law.
Others examples of letters from the "Legal Department" are much more forceful and threaten debt collection.
What frightens most people are the "debt collection" letters with mounting interest. These are specifically sent to you or made to intimidate you into paying.
Here we see the Volksbank Slovensko scammer's bank again playing host to an obvious scam, and we have the notice that "Your customer account has already been scheduled for a court recovery procedure in" and then the name of your country. Here they are ratcheting up the fear and pressure with a seven day pay or go to court "Legal notice" document, again written on letter head with red warning text at the top. Again, we are unaware of any instances where they have actually gone to court — this is just to strike the fear of God into you in an effort to prise open your wallet.
Here is another example with a different bank:
Notice that the bank has changed to Raiffeisen Bank, Czech Republic. Does this mean that Volksbank Slovensko has dropped their account or is this just another bank that seems willing to host a scammer's bank account? (The above notice had the address Postfach 172, 2940 Mödling, Austria on the envelop so you can see they seem to have their tentacles in many different countries, but never quite enough so you can legally pin them down.)
More recently they are using another bank called GE Money Bank, who may not be aware that they are handling scammed money.
GE Money Bank
Vyskocilova 1422/1a, 140 28
Praha 4-michle Zapsano u MS v Praze, odd, B, vl, 5403
Account holder: Expo Guide S C, México D.F., Mexico
Bank Account: 212435145/0600
IBAN: CZ06 0600 0000 0002 1243 5145
These payment demands are designed to frighten their recipients, racking up the pressure to pay, again because there is actually no real legal basis to force payment. This is again a manipulation exercise, with "court recovery procedure" underlined to frighten you into thinking that the bailiffs will soon be knocking at your door. (They won't because they know they would never win a court case.)
Then you will receive the 7 day demand or else!
Notice in this 7-day demand, they are threatening "a court recovery procedure", and again we are not aware of any court cases. This is all smoke and mirrors.
Here is another final demand notice:
More recently, they appear to be using Mexican bank details:
Account Holder: Expo Guide, S.C., México D.F., Mexico
Reason of payment: Order xxxxxxx Expo-Guide
Bank: Banco Inbursa, S.A., Mexico
Account No.: 50007676943
Address: Sucursal Mazaryk
Tennyson No.120 Mz 9 Lt 2 Col. Reforma Polanco C.P. 11560, Miguel Hidalgo Mexico D.F.
Next comes the scam debt collectors who try to frighten victims of the Expo Guide directory scam into paying up.
The Scam Debt Collectors
Expo Guide directory scam debt collectors include:
ICAA Ltd. (false limited company name)
Conflict Solutions Management Ltd. (false limited company name)
CRA Collections Ltd. (based in Ireland)
If you have fallen victim to the Expo Guide directory scam and refused to pay them their extortion racket, the next step is for them to send scam debt collection agencies after you who will aggressively chasing you for payment and really frighten you into thinking you should pay. This will be done by sending you threatening letters and emails, examples of which are below. And also, if you do not respond to these letters, they will also resort to threatening phone calls. Remember they are trying very hard to make you feel like the criminal not paying your "debt", trying to persuade you that it is your legal and moral obligation to pay and that if you don't then you are doing something very wrong and embarrassing, and will end up in court. Again, all this is manipulation because they know the contract you entered into with Expo Guide was based on deception, which means that it is NOT legally enforceable.
We are aware of three scam debt collecting companies involved with the Expo Guide Directory scam. The criminals behind this directory scam have probably, over the years, created or employed new scam debt collection agencies maybe to keep the scam fresh. After all, everyone knows or can simply find out with a quick internet search that ICAA Ltd. are scammers, but how many know that Conflict Solutions Managment Ltd. and CRA Collections Ltd. are scammers when they are much newer and so do not have a strong online presence. Indeed, the last one, as we will look at later, is actually based in Ireland with a sole Greek director! (Very fishy!)
ICAA Management Ltd. (Cyprus based scam debt collectors)
The first debt collecting company used for this scam, as far as we are aware, in Cyprus that we will look at is ICAA Management Ltd.
ICAA Management Ltd. refer to themselves on their websites and most of the "legal" intimidation letters and emails as ICAA Ltd., but ICAA Ltd. is not a legal company name — as any search of the Cyprus companies register will atest to. Companies can shorten their names or have different trading names, but they cannot then stick a "Ltd" at the end of the modified name. Using a false "Ltd." name is illegal in most countries. So all the "legal" letters and emails sent out using the name "ICAA Ltd." are using a false company name (probably for obscuration), which immediately invalidates them. (No doubt, now we have highlighted this fact, ICAA Management Ltd. will start using their proper legal name or use a trading name without the "Ltd".)
Here is the ICAA Ltd. website — www.icaacy.com:
Their website at www.icaacy.com is a typical template site, displaying space-filler garbage statements (such as "ICAA operates a system of PC based Windows NT networked workstations running our own in-house software") — no doubt put up online to try to increase the deception and pressure on their victims. If you do a Whois on the domain name, they are hiding behind an anonymous domain registration service.
Aside: ICAA Ltd. also have another website design which is mirrored across four different ICAA Management Ltd. domain names:
This website (see below), as far as we know, is not (yet) being used for collecting "debt" from victims of the Expo Guide scam.
Again, this is a very empty template site. The four domain registrations are all registered to a "Louis Loizou", and like the icaacy.com website, all these mirror sites are hosted by 1and1.com.
Here are their full company details for ICAA Ltd.:
ICAA Management Ltd.
(Trading under false name: ICAA Ltd.)
187a Leontiou Street
4th Floor (Apt. 401), Tsacon Court
PO Box 53397
The name signed (which may well be false) is:
Peter Grant (or Alex Lesley)
Senior Credit Manager
Company Registration number: C216888
VAT No: CY 10216888E
The VAT number is registered to ICAA Management Ltd. and is valid.
Tel: +357 25 270 666
Fax: +357 25 270 777
For more information on this company, such as appointments and accounts etc., visit: www.infocredit.cyta.com.cy/Default.aspx?q=ICAA&C=36 (If you purchase the company details, please send us a copy so we can post them online.)
Here is a list of email addresses and names used by ICAA Management Ltd. that were kindly sent to us. These names may be falseand we cannot verify them. But we did recently receive a legal threat from a lawyer acting on behalf of ICAA which means that some of this information my have some validity:
- firstname.lastname@example.org (Laszlo Peter — the head manager).
- email@example.com (Christina Panayiotou — ex-barmaid, the only one of two German employees).
- firstname.lastname@example.org (Christina Charalambous — the second German colleague who was a Hamburger housewife).
- email@example.com (Mirate Aldo)
- firstname.lastname@example.org (Maia Ligurian)
- email@example.com (Michel Garrocq)
- firstname.lastname@example.org (Marjolaine Delhaye)
- email@example.com (Ashley Morgan)
- firstname.lastname@example.org (Angie Gordon)
- email@example.com (Adrian Zara)
- firstname.lastname@example.org (an English woman who goes under the names, "Ann Simo" and "Helen Simson")
- email@example.com (probably Chris Michael)
- firstname.lastname@example.org (probably Ester Abatelli)
- email@example.com (probably Pascal Lefevre)
- firstname.lastname@example.org (probably Sandro Penati)
- email@example.com (probably Candice Picard)
- firstname.lastname@example.org (the secretary)
Missing from this list is "Louis Loizou" who registered the ICAA domains and the clb-solutions.com domain listed above, and "Louis Michael" who is the contact person listed for their range of IP addresses which are 126.96.36.199 - 188.8.131.52, which is probably the IPs of their voip telephone system, run by Cytanet (www.cytanet.com.cy) through which ICAA Management Ltd. phone their victims.
A more detailed review of the personnel at ICAA Management Ltd. was kindly sent to us — probably by an ex-employee. We have a separate review of ICAA Management Ltd. here: Assessment of ICAA.
Conflict Solutions Management Ltd. (Cyprus based scam debt collectors)
The second debt collecting company that they are now using, which is also based in Cyrpus, is one called Conflict Solutions Management Ltd. website — www.clb-solutions.com.
We cannot find a company of that name in Cyprus, only a company called: C.L. BUSINESS CONFLICTS SOLUTIONS MANAGEMENT LTD. which just so happens to have the same web address as you can see from this entry in CyprusNews.eu:
C.L Business Conflict Solutions Ltd. is Conflict Solutions Management Ltd. — they are the same company. C.L. Business Conflicts Solutions Management Ltd. is the real name and Conflict Solutions Management Ltd. is the false trading name, in exactly the same way that the sister company ICAA Management Ltd. trade under the false name ICAA Ltd. It is interesting that, for the new limited company, the directors chose such a long and complicated name when they could have had a much shorter and easier-to-remember name. But then that maybe the whole point… they are are trying to distance Conflict Solutions Management Ltd. from its actual company name as a means of more obscuration. Are they afraid to collect scammed money under a real company name? Does that open them up to legal action?
This www.clb-solutions.com website looks more professional than the www.icaacy.com website, but like the other it has no company identification numbers or tax codes to show visitors exactly who they are. However, the two websites are actually closely linked, which strongly suggests that the same individuals are behind both these companies. In the whois info for the Conflict Solutions Management Ltd. domain we see the registrant is a "Shawn McMillan" with the address 820 Finchley Road. That address is for the Marks & Spencer supermarket, so this is probably a bogus address. However, what is revealing is the phone number in the whois info, which points to a SE7 address which we think is the actual address, and the registrant's email email@example.com. Who owns sbscy.com? Louis Loizou! You will recognize him from above… he is the very same man who just so happens to own the domains icaaltd.com, icaa-assessment.com, icaamanagement.com and icaa-agency.com (see aside below). So the same person seems to be behind Conflict Solutions Management Ltd. and ICAA Ltd.
As there is no company called Conflict Solutions Management Ltd. in Cyprus, only a company as already mentioned called C.L. BUSINESS CONFLICTS SOLUTIONS MANAGEMENT LTD., using the name Conflict Solutions Management Ltd. on letterhead like this is illegal and, like ICAA Ltd.'s false name above, immediately invalidates any correspondence or demands (not that they have any validity in the first place).
And here is what we have on Conflict Solutions Management Ltd. so far:
C.L. Business Conflicts Solutions Management Ltd.
(Trading under false name: Conflict Solutions Management Ltd.)
PO Box 53734
Tel: +357 25 270 400
Fax: +357 25 270 440
More information on C.L. BUSINESS CONFLICTS SOLUTIONS MANAGEMENT LTD. can be found by searching: http://www.infocredit.cyta.com.cy/.
Interestingly the address PO Box 53734, 3317 Limassol just so happened to also be used by a company called CyBiz Advertising (Petros Philippou) which advertise themselves as Branding & Marketing Consultants. We don't believe that CyBiz have anything to do with Conflict Solutions Management, but it is rather strange that they would be sharing an identical PO Box number and address.
ICAA Management Ltd. / C.L. Business Conflicts Solutions Management Ltd. could well be the organisation that is actually behind the whole Expo Guide scam, just using a Mexican address for the scam to avoid legal tangles. If this is the case, it is actually ICAA Management Ltd./ C.L. Business Conflicts Solutions Management Ltd. that should be targeted in order to stop the Expo Guide business directory scam. Obviously this is just conjecture, but what we do know is that Expo Guide and ICAA/CSM work incredibly closely together in working this scam.
CRA Collections Ltd. (Dublin, Ireland based scam debt collectors)
The third scam debt collection company, which has only recently in Feb 2016 been brought to our attention, is CRA Collections Ltd. in Dublin, Ireland.
Here is their website which is located at www.cra-collections.com:
As usual with these scam debt collection companies, the domain registration information for cra-collections.com is hidden, and the domain was only registered 11 Jan 2016, indicating the newness of the organisation.
The contact information emailed to victims of the Expo Guide scam are as follows:
SENIOR COLLECTION OFFICER
CRA Collections Ltd.
24 Suffolk Street
T: +353 (0) 1 539 4879
F: +353 (0) 1 481 1860
We were interested in how an Irish company could be collecting money from a directory racket so we looked at the actual company at the Irish Companies House. Here is some company information:
So CRA Collections Ltd. has a sole company director living in Greece called Kiriaki Konidaris who is 50 to 54 years old. So again we have a Greece/Cyprus connection here — no doubt the same gang behind the other scam debt collection agencies.
What is interesting about the name "Kiriaki Konidaris" is that it is seems to be very rare. A Google search, for example, shows up only three search results.
What should you do if ICAA Ltd., Conflict Solutions Management Ltd. or CRA Collections Ltd. contact you regarding an Expo Guide "debt". We recommend, based on what has worked for others, that you ignore the letters and do not take phone calls. In fact, do not engage in them in any way because the more you engage with them, the more they won't leave you alone. We have experienced this ourselves with the legal threats they have sent us. (Some have found that if you keep asking them questions about their activities, they soon start backing off in case you are passing information to sites like this one. But it is easiest just to ignore them in the knowledge that they cannot touch you.)
Here are some of the communications received by victims of the Expo Guide scam from these "debt collection" agencies:
From: Helen Simpson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Xxx, Xxx xx, 2012 at x:xx PM
Subject: LEGAL LETTER//Attn of xxxxxxx
XX XXXXXX 2012-
Attention of XXXXXXX
We feel we have tried our utmost in assisting you to resolve this matter with our client Expo Guide - OUT OF COURT.
You have failed to co-operate with us on behalf of our client.
You will now be receiving a Legal letter from our Lawyer/Legal department at ICAA on Monday 23 January 2012
You will have 3 banking days to respond / to make payment.
Payment by T/T or Credit Card (make sure you write your reference number on document)
Failing this, your file will be returned to our client on Thursday 26 January 2012 as an open/unpaid debt.
You will then be receiving in the near future a summons to appear , or to send a legal representative to represent you/your company in the court of law, as our client will proceed to redeem the full outstanding amount of USD 4,713.00 plus legal expenses,
Senior Credit Manager
INTERNATIONAL CREDIT ASSESSMENT AGENCY
187A Leontiou Str. 4th Floor.
P.O. Box 53397
Phone: +357 25 27 06 66
Fax: +357 25 27 07 77
Notice how they are trying to frighten receipients into paying the scam debt:
ICAA Ltd.Tsacon Court 5th Floor, 187 Leontiou Str.,3020 Limassol, Cyprus
Sent by e-mail&fax
06 November 2013
ICAA ref : XXXXXX
Attached to this e-mail are:
Copy of Final invoice
We refer to our previous correspondence and in particular to the outstanding sum of EUR 2,624.54 which remains due and owing by your organization.
Please note that this is now a legal matter.
We have presented our point of view with documentation from our file in support of this claim.
You were informed that, as you have failed to settle the charges to date, unless payment was received, this case would be filed for legal recovery procedures for a claim against your company in court for the enforsed collection of the three year contractual value in full plus charges for late payment.
Once judgement or decree has been granted the following may proceed:
- Your debt being increased to include Legal costs and acrued interest.
- Your company name being entered in the public Records of the court.
- Your credit rating being adversely affected for possible future credit and loan applications.
the enforsed collection of the three year contractual value in full plus charges for late payment /legal administration which will be added to the balance of this amount.
In our efforts to come to a pre-legal solution, we have offered a complete termination of liabilities upon full and final settlement of the outstanding charges to date where by a written release of liability and severance agreement will be issued.
This will bring an immediate end to the contract and no further claims shall be received by your company in connection with this order.
If you intend to resolve this matter amicably, hereby avoiding lawsuit, please take immediate action to settle this outstanding balance.
You are requested to acknowledge this communication in reply with your immediate response.
Senior Credit Manager
INTERNATIONAL CREDIT ASSESSMENT AGENCY
187A Leontiou Str. 4th Floor.
P.O. Box 53397
Phone: +357 25 27 06 66
Fax+357 25 27 07 77
This is all just BS, sprinkled with legal jargon to again frighten and embarrass the recipient into paying.
They will then try to strike a deal with you so that you feel you can get off with a smaller payment: pay the first invoice and "the second and third invoices will be cancelled without penalty, and all other charges for late payment and Legal Notices will be credited off the account." How generous!! At last you see a way to minimise the fallout from your stupid mistake in signing a deceptive document. Some probably pay up at this point thinking that this is the best deal on the table and that they may as well reluctantly accept it. But in reality, making deals implies a legitimate contractual agreement has been broken between two parties, which is clearly not the case here. This is just more trickery to extract money from you.
We used to advise readers to send a response to them about being mis-sold a service and hiding important detail in the small print, and therefore the contract is not legitimate, but we have now changed out minds over this as it just engages these scammers further, producing letters like the one below, sent by the ICAA 'legal team' to a victim in Europe. This is just heavy-handed fear mongering and intimidation — nothing else:
This whole letter has been written to frighten you into paying up. We find it amusing that they often refer in these responses to their legitimacy because of the lack of any negative court decision, which is a bit like a novice tennis player claiming to be brilliant at the game because he has never lost at Wimbledon! There are no negative court decisions because Expo Guide and ICAA Management Ltd. avoid court at all costs as they know they would lose. The contract you enter into by signing their deceptive Expo Guide directory forms is unenforceable.
Here is the next threatening letter in the sequence from above:
If you are reading this and outraged by what is going on, please email or letter to Banco Santander S.A. with a link to this page to complain that they are receiving money obtained by deception. More recently they are using GE Money Bank in the Czech Republic, maybe because Banco Santander has realized that they are party to a clear scam. Here are their details if you want to do this:
If you are in the United Kingdom, check out Santander UK Complaints
Otherwise try going direct to:
Banco Santander S.A.
Main Telephone: 91 289 00 00
Corporate Telephone: 902 18 20 20
GE Money Bank Complaints:
Go to their website https://www.gemoney.cz/en/contact-us/contacts and ring them and ask how to make a formal complaint. They also have a facebook page and linked-in page, so put your complaints there. If you are really wanting to end this, why not start a facebook campaign on stopping this bank giving banking facilities to a known scammer? This would really help other people.
Here is a sample email you can send to the bank involved, just filling in the missing details:
Dear Sir or Madam
I wish to make a complaint that your bank is giving banking services to Expo Guide SC (Account: xxxxxxxxx, Swift xxxxxxxxx), perpetrators of a well-known directory scam in Europe and around the world, a scam that is being run from Mexico. There are many businesses that have fallen for this scam and it is well documented online.
This scam involves intimidation, but the Expo Guide scammers never take it as far as court as they know they would lose and could no longer claim that they have never had a negative court judgement, which gives them quasi-legitimacy.
These types of directory scam are well known, see http://www.richardcorbett.org.uk/directoryscams.htm, but whilst the EU has been trying to stamp them out, which it has had some limited success in because many of those perpetrating this scam are within the EU, this particular one is being run from outside the EU, which makes it particularly pernicious and difficult to stop.
Now that you are aware that Expo Guide SC is an organisation running a directory scam, we hope that you will no longer offer them business services, helping them process money which has been taken from customers around the world in an illegitimate manner.
We are also considering starting a facebook campaign to stop banks giving scammers such as Expo-Guide the facilities that allow them to extort money from their victims.
I look forward to your response.
By this stage, if they still have not managed to get money out of you after all this "sound and fury", they invariably go away to focus their attention on easier and more gullible prey, realizing that intimidating legal threats and trickery do not and will not sway you.
We have noticed as a general rule that the more you engage with them, the more validity you are giving to their scam and the Expo Guide "contract", and so the closer they think they are to breaking you and getting their scam money. (One exception was someone who was asking them too many questions and then passing the info to us. They dropped that correspondence like a hot potato!)
So the best way to deal with them seems to be to not communicate with them at all: do not answer any letters and do not take any phone calls. It does takes a thick skin dealing with them effectively, but that is understandable as you are dealing with people with very thick skins and who are trying everything to intimidate you.
For those who unfortunately do fall for this scam, for the record, here are some scans and emails kindly sent to us regarding cancellation and a final payment invoice.
First, here is a cancellation email sent by ICAA to a client to which was attached a final invoice (see below) and a cancellation agreement. This allows the "customer" (the scammee) to cancel "services" (the scam) involving online listing by the Expo-Guide S.C. (the scammer):
From: Anna White [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Thursday, March 15, 2012 14:17 AM
To: John Smith
Subject: Cancellation Agreement and Full and Final Invoice
Dear Mr. Smith
Please find attached 'cancellation agreement' as discussed, with full and final invoice.
You have three methods of payments:
1. Wire Transfer - Please take care to follow the 'Bank details' as indicated on the form, and send proof of payment by return when funds are arranged. PLEASE BE AWARE IS THAT YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE BANK CHARGES.
2. Credit card payments can be sent to me for review and I will email to my client for processing. Alternatively, you can fax directly to my client. You will need to call your credit card company because you will need to authorize payment since it is going outside of Cayman Islands. Please note that some credit card companies will charge you.
Please make the check out to beneficiary name Expo-Guide S.C. and send via FEDEX or your preferred express courier to the following address:
Ave Horacio # 340 – 3
Col. Chapultepec Morales
Mexico D.F. 11570
Could you please scan to my email a copy of the check and tracking number?
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Senior Credit Manager
INTERNATIONAL CREDIT ASSESSMENT AGENCY
Phone: 011357 25 27 06 66
Fax: 011357 25 27 07 77
This is the cancellation agreement that was attached to this email:
And here is a scan of a final invoice:
And here is a "final notice" fax to a victim who told them he was not paying on advice of Trading Standards:
This was accompanied with the following email from good old "Angie Gordon":
Via Email and facsimile for legal purposes
21 October 2013
Expo Guide S.C. vs. Xxxxxxxxx Ltd.
Debt owed: €2,624.54
Order no: 355214
Further to our conversation with Xxxxx today and our follow up email together with the documents pertaining to the order placed by your organisation. We write to you in response to the accusations against our client received from Katherine as your reason for refusal to settle your account.
We can assure you that both ICAA and our client Expo Guide are bona fide companies.
- Expo Guide’s registration is EGU0705223M8. You can verify any time with the authorities in Mexico the legitimacy of their business.
- Our company’s VAT N° 10216888E and our legitimacy can be validated by the Department of the Registrar of Companies in Cyprus. Please feel free to verify.
- Our client did nothing but to send your company an offer via airmail (this is also known as direct marketing). There were 2 options within their literature and the signatory chose the payable option and returned the signed form. No sales pressure has ever been applied. Therefore we do not see where the “scam” in this matter is·
- Our client has provided you with the service as requested which can be verified at: http://www.expo-guide.com/XXXXXXXXX
Finally we have discussed with our legal department the accusations by your representative Xxxxxx and as such we have been asked to convey the following:
- Any further reference to defamatory acts and/or abuse against our client by you or your company, without valid proof, will not be tolerated and will be met with definitive and decisive appropriate action to defend our client’s rights. We trust you will be guided accordingly.
There is no doubt that a contract was legally entered into in the name and on behalf of your company. Should you choose to ignore it, our client reserves the right to proceed as per stipulated in your freely signed and submitted contract.
We hope to have clarified this matter and await confirmation that Katherine is acting upon the instructions of your organization and that further procedures are necessary to resolve this matter.
Senior Credit Manager
International Credit Assessment Agency
Tel: +357 25 27 06 66 / Fax: +357 25 27 07 77
VAT No: CY10216888E
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org website: www.icaacy.com
This is an attempt to collect a debt. Any information obtained will be used for that purpose.
And here we have a faxed letter. These are almost comical to read...
And here is a letter from their sister company Conflict Solutions Management Ltd.
Notice that they are using a false Ltd. name. The actual name of the company is "C.L. BUSINESS CONFLICTS SOLUTIONS MANAGEMENT LTD." and so using that different name with an Ltd. on the end immediately invalidates the demand, although of course this sort of demand, even if the company name was valid, cannot be legally enforced as the contract itself was deceptive.
And finally, here is a hilarious email response to the victim above who told ICAA that he believed they were a scam organisation and listed the two main websites outlining this scam (including this one). The term "clutching at straws" comes to mind, and we love the "Hopefully one day you will not find your organisation at the butt of their gossip" line. That will tell you! Lansky's legal training has obviously consisted of watching TV detective movies.
04 November 2013
Further to your correspondence today it has already come to our attention that recent disparaging remarks on internet websites such as, Mukaumedia and energygrid are negative and harmful in nature and overstep the boundaries of the conventional law of defamation. This it appears the same can be said regarding your organisation.
1) Spread harmful untruths, arguably not in the public interest, about our client, their business, and the manner in which they run the same.
2) Have the effect of defaming our client and their business, directly, indirectly and/or through implication.
That is, they – at very least – imply that our client acts fraudulently, through their alleged misrepresenting, the relevant and precise details of their offer to do business – Direct Marketing.
Their failure to provide a balanced view, that is they fail to mention that our client do nothing but offer a payable advertisement service, that all the relevant information including costs and indications for termination are provided and freely available to the recipient, that upon receiving the completed order, the service advertisement is created as requested.
They clearly seek to “expose” our client as a fraud through implication, and harm their business interests / integrity. More significantly, they (in) directly accuse our client of fraud, despite their arguable lack of evidence. They are therefore defaming our client.
We are also of the opinion that their conduct (omission) is (arguably) unlawful and malicious.
Furthermore, my colleague Angie Gordon has provided you with public information in respect of our client, and that of ourselves and invited you to verify with the appropriate authorities which is all that is necessary from a legal standpoint.
Finally I sincerely hope that the writers of these websites have not drawn you into their way of thinking, especially given that Maukaumedia offers organisations like yourselves an “online reputation management” although usually of gossip they have started! Hopefully one day you will not find your organisation at the butt of their gossip.
I am certain that I do not have to reiterate again the consequences of any further defamation against our client without providing legal proof.
INTERNATIONAL CREDIT ASSESSMENT AGENCY
Tsacon Court, 4th Floor,
187A Leontiou Str.
3020 Limassol, Cyprus
P.O. Box 53397
3302 Limassol, Cyprus
Tel : +357 25 27 06 66, Fax: +357 25 27 07 77
So in a nutshell, what do you do if you have fallen for this scam?
We are not your lawyers so we can't give you legal advice. But we can certainly tell you what has worked for other people in a similar situation and that is simple:
GET ON WITH YOUR LIVES
This is also the advice of Richard Corbett MEP (see video at the top of the page) and other MEPs.
As far as we are aware, has ever been taken to court over this scam as the scammers would almost definitely lose and this would be very damaging to their future operations. Far better for them to hide in the shadows, where it is easier to appear quasi-legitimate, claiming that they have never had a "negative court decision". These scammers know that in the cold glare of a legal court, the whole charade will be exposed, and that is something not in their interest because it would bring them under scrutiny and provide a legal basis to stop their extortion. This has already happened with an identical business directory scam in the United States called Fair Guide. The individuals behind Expo Guide certainly don't want to risk a court action that could escalate into them being closed down and possibly fined.
If you want peace of mind, you can check with your own Trading Standards organisation — chances are they will be very well aware of this scam, and are well aware that the scammers have:
- Passed themselves off as a directory associated with the particular expo organisation written on their forms, and they do this by having invisible/generic branding and deceptive form/letter layouts. The particular expo is carefully chosen to match the target company.
- Mis-sold a service by hiding important detail such as payment in small print, and in the very faint grey print on the back of the sign-up form. The way their letters are written is also misleading and misdirecting.
- Used a lot of legal terminology in the small print to make the form seem legally binding — a binding contract.
- Tried intimidation to try to extract money from you, which potentially turns this fraud into extortion.
In most countries, there are laws against passing yourself off as something you are not, and mis-selling by hiding important detail in small print (and grey print).
When we spoke to UK trading standards about this scam they told us that they had a thick file on Expo Guide — that this fraud was well-known to them, and that they generally advised people who have fallen for this type of business directory scam not to pay them.
As for their legal terminology — it has all been put in there to frighten you. And most people are very intimidated when these sorts of swindles happen, especially when they start getting letters and phone calls from Expo Guide's debt collectors chasing the money. And what is more, the calls will be from people of your own nationality to make it more intimidating.
If you want to take things further:
If you find dealing with these people just too stressful, walk on. No problem! But if you want to help stop this scam, then please consider reporting this scam to the whole network of other legitimate" organisations that are "inadvertently" supporting them. Scams like this require a whole infrastructure to run, such as:
- Governments that allow scam companies to operate on their shores
- Banks to receive the scammed money
- Credit card companies for allowing easy payment of scammed money
- Webhosts to host the scammers website
- Domain registrars who allow scammers to hide their details
- PO Box suppliers who provide anonymity
Some of these organisations may genuinely know nothing about their role in this fraud, whereas others may well be turning a blind eye because it is just easier for them to do so, and they indirectly take their cut. So it is up to all victims to tell these organisations what you think of them supporting these fraudsters.
The Expo Guide directory uses a Mexican address, whereas the "debt" collecting company, at least for Europe, is in Cyprus. The same people are probably behind both "branches" of this scam. Trying to sort out Mexico is a dead loss, as Mexico has a reputation for corruption. Cyprus, however, is part of the EU and has been since 2004, and whilst it does offer a safe environment for a scammer's debt collecting agency to operate legally, this fact will be embarrassing to the Cypriot government as they will know that Brussels has been trying to stamp out directory scams.
For example, the video below is Arlene McCarthy MEP trying to get these sorts of business directory scam banned in the EU. This video was posted back in 2008, and yet companies like Expo Guide, ICAA Management Ltd. and Conflict Solutions Management Ltd. are happily ticking over. The only two countries that has bothered to close down these business directory scams are Austria and the US, but unfortunately all the scammers do when the law catches up with them is to move to a different country and continue their operations as before, taking a "catch me if you can" approach.
So although ICAA Management Ltd. and Conflict Solutions Management Ltd., as far as far as we know are breaking no Cypriot laws (except using a spurious "Ltd" company name ICAA Ltd. instead of ICAA Management Ltd., which is illegal), they are undoubtedly participating in a business directory scam, one that would be an embarrassement to the Cypriot government if enough people complained. The same applies to their sister company Conflict Solutions Management Ltd. which is also a false legal name, invalidating whatever they send out. (Even if they used the proper company name, the contract would still be unenforceable.)
Here is another video of an interview with Simon Busutill MEP about trying to stop these sorts of directory scams.
So Brussels has certainly been aware of this problem for a number of years now and is slowly moving in the right direction. But it may be a few years before they are completely outlawed. Here is a press release issued in November 2012 on what the European Commission's strategy is:
So Cyprus, being in the EU, is actually the weak link in the chain because the EU not only has certain business standards, that countries like Mexico unfortunately do not, but there is obviously some momentum (not enough) in the EU parliament to stop business directory scamming. So we urge victims to take the following actions to try to stop ICAA Management Ltd's and Conflict Solutions Management Ltd's involvement in this scam:
- Write to your MEP and ask why these business directory scams are still allowed to continue in the EU when the EU officially discussed this problem back in 2008. Austria stopped them, but no other country seems to have been bothered to take official action. To find who your MEP is visit: www.europarl.europa.eu/meps/en/map.html
- Write a formal complaint to your country's embassy in Cyprus telling them about this scam and that it is being run through a company in Cyprus. You can find contact details of your embassy http://embassy.goabroad.com/embassies-in/cyprus. Include a link to this page and our Expo Guide page http://www.energygrid.com/watchdog/2008/11-expoguide.html.
- Complain to your local Cypriot embassy. Let them know the trouble that their country is causing by allowing ICAA Management Ltd. and Conflict Solutions Management Ltd. to continue trading. You can get a list of local embassy contact details here. Tell them you have reported this to your embassy in their country as well. We need to start a diplomatic discussion on this scam.
- Complain to the Cypriot authorities by sending an email to the Cypriot government body responsible for companies. Tell them that they have been using a false name — ICAA Ltd. and Conflict Soluitons Management Ltd. rather than ICAA Management Ltd. and whatever the other is actually called — and that they are participating in a directory scam that Brussels has been trying to stop. Also tell them tat you have written to the Cyprus government and your own government as well. Their email address is email@example.com.
- From your paperwork you will see a name of a bank to send the scammed money to. Find the address of the bank and write a formal complaint that they are receiving money obtained by deception. The banks we know who are or have been involved in collecting this scammed money are Banco Santander S.A. (Madrid), Raiffeisen Bank (Czech Republic) and Volksbank Slovensko (Slovakia). Also they have recently been using GE Money Bank in the Czech Republic.
- ICAA Management Ltd. is hosted in the US by 1 and 1 hosting. Please report the abuse by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or dialing +1 (816) 621-4797. This company must be told that it is unwittingly hosting a scam website. (The Expo Guide website, on the other hand, appears to be on a private US server using the Cogent network (www.cogentco.com). You can email them at: email@example.com. giving them a link to this page so they know what is going on. The IP address to complain about is 184.108.40.206 although this may just be a proxy.)
Final considerations and moral support:
Also, for moral and emotionl support, it is good to network with other people regarding this scam so you don't feel so alone facing it. The following websites do an excellent job in giving a forum and great advice to those who have fallen for this scam, especially the first one:
The first link above gives some interesting news. Construct Data who run an identical scam (the same people may well be behind the Expo Guide scam) have lost a big court case in the US and have been fined nearly 10 million dollars. Visit the linkin link above for more information and you can see the official ruling here: www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/140307fairguidejgdmt.pdf
Directory Scams are now banned in the United States:
The second link above — mu:kaumedia — which is well worth a visit as it has a forum dedicated to this scam, also makes the claim that by writing to the Mexican Trading Standards, you can get the Expo Guide scammers off your back because they are forced to cancel your account. We are not sure if this actually works, but it might be worth a try if you are worried. (In our opinion, it is just not worth the effort.) Here are the contact details of the Mexican Trading Standards that mu:kaumedia give on their excellent site:
PROFECO: Procuraduria Federal del Consumidor, Av. Jose Vasconcelos
208 Col. Condesa, Del Cuauhtemoc, Mexico D.F.
What is truly frightening, however, is to think of how much money Expo Guide must be raking in if even only a tiny percentage of the many thousands, each year, that are scammed into signing these forms are subsequently intimidated enough by the situation to pay up. (One possible ex-employee of ICAA Management Ltd., the bogus debt collecting organisation used in the scam, estimates that 18,000 individuals a year are scammed!) But remember if you do pay up, and that is your choice, you are certainly helping to perpetuate this fraud. Remember that this sort of fraud will at some point be stamped out in the EU, just as it was in the US.
The Expo Guide scam is actually just one small scam in a whole array of directory and guide scams. As a general rule to spot these sorts of scams, NEVER sign anything that has "legally binding" by the signature without triple checking the fine print. Normal directory entries for legitimate organisations will not generally have "legally binding" by the signature.