Milwaukee, Wis. July 22, 2010 –
An agricultural equipment manufacturer from South-Central Illinois appears to be among the most recent victims of an international trade show scheme operating out of Mexico.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) urges businesses, associations and other groups throughout the U.S. to be extremely cautious when dealing with Expo Guide, Expo-Guide.com
, or Commercial Online Manuals
. Consumers say they believed they were filling out paperwork for free ads in trade show guides, only to learn later that they were committing to pay $1,500 a year for Internet listings with little, if any, value.
The BBB in Columbus, Ohio, has received 19 complaints about the business in the past 36 months. Sixteen of those complaints were not answered, the BBB said. The company has an “F” grade, the lowest grade possible. The complaints are from across the U.S. and Canada, including New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and California.
Ran Hoth, Wisconsin BBB president and CEO, said similar trade show ad schemes have been operating for years. Consumers involved in trade shows or exhibitions, in both the U. S. and abroad, should be on the lookout for companies asking to include their business information in a free show publication, she said.
“In some cases, the offer includes fine print that hooks them into expensive, long-term deals in exchange for listing their information on Expo Guide’s and similar websites,” Hoth said.
An attorney from Belleville, Ill., who represents the Illinois manufacturing company, told the BBB that his client was stunned to receive a bill from Expo Guide. He said the company’s officials have no memory of signing any contract in which they agreed to purchase a listing in an online directory, and have tried repeatedly to obtain a copy of the alleged agreement.
Even if such an agreement had been signed, the attorney said, “it appears that it would have been done under the same circumstances under which other companies participating in trade shows were victimized by Expo Guide’s scams.”
He said Expo Guide misleads trade show participants into believing they are filling out forms to get their listings included free in the trade show’s official guide, when “basically illegible print” on the form commits them to the $1,500 a year Internet ad.
Numerous trade show operators have posted warnings on their websites about the Mexican scheme and similar operations. The Belleville attorney has said the scheme has victimized businesses ranging from medical device manufacturers to greeting card companies.
The BBB offers the following advice for consumers solicited on behalf of trade show publications:
- Be suspicious of any business that solicits information about your company in connection with an upcoming trade show or exhibition. Be certain that the solicitation is being done on behalf of the trade show and not by an unrelated party.
- Read everything closely before submitting any information to a company claiming ties to a trade show. In many cases, small print or print in light, difficult-to-read type, may commit a business or association to a costly, long-term agreement.
- Check a company’s Reliability Report with the BBB by going to www.bbb.org or by calling 414-847-6000 (metro Milwaukee), 920-734-4352 (NE Wisconsin) or 800-273-1002 (elsewhere in Wisconsin).