As a public e-mail address, I receive a variety of ‘interesting’ offers on the Hastings Independent business account. With most of these, the nature of the content is obvious and a quick trip to the trash file is their fate. However, one e-mail that hit my inbox recently made an offer that, though initially tempting, turned out to be too good to be true.

The e-mail came from a business calling itself “World Business List”, based in Utrecht in The Netherlands. It offered me a free ‘update’ in their international directory, enabling me to spread the word about the paper internationally. At first glance this seemed like an opportunity not to be missed. Who wouldn’t want to get free publicity on such a scale?

The “generous” offer

However, close inspection of the fine print revealed the sting in the tale. Whilst their application form was technically correct in stating (in large bold letters) “Updating is free of charge!” this was not a service without cost. Anyone signing up to this offer was also agreeing to a three year subscription to the directory, with automatic renewal every year after that. The price of this subscription? 995 Euros a year. 

The dangerous fine print

Since this condition is shown on the application form, albeit in small type, it could well be argued that this was an enforceable contract. Whilst I would hope that any court would consider the that the misleading way the offer was made would avoid this, this cannot be guaranteed. The situation would be further complicated by jurisdiction issues. The fine print also states that the contract is made under the jurisdiction of the supplier’s address, meaning that it could be contested under Dutch contract law instead of that of the UK. 

The moral of this story is to beware of Greeks (or Dutch) bearing gifts. Any offer you receive out of the blue is likely to come with strings attached. As is good practice generally, not just in business, always read the fine print before signing anything. Otherwise you might find yourself agreeing to more than you bargained for.


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