Many of you recognize the following: Full throttle in the delusion of the day you receive a call from a friendly lady or gentleman who would like to: “Check your registered data for the current situation and whether it is still correct”. You unwittingly accept the call and shortly afterwards receive a fax with the request to sign and return it. After a few weeks, it turns out that you have entered into a costly agreement in an obscure directory or vague website that you can’t get rid of. This is a classic example of what is known as acquisition fraud.
You may have come across another form in your digital mailbox or letterbox, the so-called phantom invoice. An invoice from a company with an impressive name with a vague description such as services provided or current subscription, but which is based entirely on thin air, since you have not entered into any agreement with the company in question. You too are human and certainly in a large company you don’t have everything ready, so the chance that you accidentally fall for such a trick is quite high. There will always be malicious people who will try to cheat you out of money without actually doing anything.
This long-standing practice was a thorn in the side of the government, and in particular the SP, and in 2013 the Acquisition Fraud Bill was introduced. The proposal was approved by the First Chamber and the law will now enter into force on 1 July 2016. Acquisition fraud will now be legally punishable in Book 6 of the Civil Code and in the Criminal Code. Acquisition fraud is defined as: “Deceptive trade practices between organizations whereby sales techniques are used aimed at gaining trust and arousing expectations, in order to induce the other party to enter into an agreement whereby a quid pro quo is not provided or is barely provided. Examples are placing an advertisement in non-existent or scarcely read business directories and/or on the Internet, and sending unsolicited and unwarranted invoices: so-called phantom invoices.
The new articles in the Act make it easier for entrepreneurs to escape from an agreement if it is concluded via this so-called “misleading omission”. A misleading omission is the omission or concealment of important information when entering into a transaction, as a result of which it can be considered an unlawful act. Acquisition fraud against entrepreneurs is punishable by imprisonment for 2 years.
Do not think that after July 1 you are fully covered against acquisition fraud or do not need to take action against it yourself. It is still important to show initiative and present a targeted defense, for which the following tips can help.
Do not enter into a discussion with the company over the phone, but rather put forward your defence by e-mail or (registered) letter.
Indicate that you do not agree with an invoice and that you think you have been misled.
Incidentally, do not sign a postal copy of the letter, as this can cause further misery/abuse.
The burden of proof is reversed: As of July 1, the ad agency must now demonstrate not only that there is an agreement, but also that you have been fully and accurately informed. Since acquisition fraud is punishable under Article 326d of the Criminal Code, you can also report this so-called criminal offense. An appointment can be made via 0900-8844, the national telephone number of the police or the nearest police station. Some crimes can even be taken digitally.
In any case, the best tip is, stick to the adage: “Trust is nice, control is better!”