The Local Search Association advises you to look closely at your Yellow Pages bills before you pay them. There are many ongoing schemes under which misleading and fraudulent Yellow Pages "bills" get paid by thousands of advertisers each month.
These highly lucrative scams not only take money directly from the pockets of unsuspecting advertisers, they also tarnish the image of one of the country's largest advertising media.
Some of the Scams
- You receive an unsolicited fax letting you know that you can have a ‘free’ Yellow Pages advertisement if you simply sign the form and return. The scam’s perpetrators will then contend that the free ad is only for a listing on Facebook and that your signature on the form is a ‘binding contract’ for a different Internet-based directory. You then receive bills for this on-line listing followed by threats that you will be taken to court and have your credit history ruined.
- You receive an unsolicited fax asking you to review your ‘existing’ Yellow Pages listing. You will notice that there are mistakes, perhaps an incorrect street address, etc. The fax you receive will ask you to return the form with the mistakes corrected as well as your signature to authorize the listing changes. After you return the fax, you will be told that your signature was also your consent for the ‘continued’ placement of a listing for which you are asked to pay.
- A bill is sent to your business with the claim that a verbal agreement was given for an on-line listing. When you call back, there is a recorded conversation in which a person from your business presumably has given permission to proceed with a for-cost listing, when in fact, it is just a spliced tape in which sentences from a phone conversation are taken out of context.
- You receive a fraudulent bill generally for an amount less than $200, a relatively small amount that can be unsuspectingly and routinely paid without arising suspicion. Sometimes it will be an invoice that typically proclaims "This Is Not A Bill” – usually found on the front side. You may see the famous Walking Fingers logo, a symbol that was never trademarked and therefore available for anyone's use. It may have no telephone number to use for inquiries, a fictitious reference or account number, and lots of fine print on the back.
- Your business may receive a check that looks like a refund or rebate check. Read the front and back carefully. By cashing the check, you may be agreeing to be billed monthly for something you do not want or need, such as Internet access or membership in an online directory.
These are only some of the scams that have been happening. Be skeptical when you receive offers from strangers. In all cases, you want to determine if you are dealing with a legitimate Yellow Pages provider or a scam artist. Some solicitations could violate the law if they misrepresent information.
The U.S. Postal Service requires solicitations that look like invoices, bills or account statements to carry one of the following notices:
THIS IS NOT A BILL. THIS IS A SOLICITATION. YOU ARE UNDER NO OBLIGATION TO PAY THE AMOUNT STATED ABOVE UNLESS YOU ACCEPT THIS OFFER.
THIS IS A SOLICITATION FOR AN ORDER OF GOODS OR SERVICES, OR BOTH, AND NOT A BILL, INVOICE OR STATEMENT OF ACCOUNT DUE. YOU ARE UNDER NO OBLIGATION TO MAKE ANY PAYMENTS ON ACCOUNT OF THIS OFFER UNLESS YOU ACCEPT THIS OFFER.
Bogus Billing in the News
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While the con artists usually publish a directory, distribution is generally limited to the advertisers themselves as well as an unspecified number of public libraries, chambers of commerce, hotels/motels, gasoline service stations, restaurants, government agencies, and other non-traditional target markets.
Before you buy directory advertising space, membership through a mail solicitation or pay an “invoice,” take the following steps:
- Check out the company and its publication. Call your local Yellow Pages publisher to see if it is affiliated with the soliciting company.
- Ask for a copy of a previous directory edition.
- Ask for the online directory’s web address and call advertisers in the directory to ask if their listing has been a good buy. If your business is listed in the Yellow Pages of a legitimate publisher, you likely will be listed in their online directory at no charge.
- Ask the publisher for written information about where the directory is distributed, how it is distributed, how often it is published, and distribution or circulation figures.
- Check with your local and state consumer protection agencies to determine if any complaints have been filed about the publisher. This isn't a guarantee, but it is a prudent step.
What you can do
If you receive what you believe may be a bogus Yellow Pages bill, first of all, do not pay it. Take a good, long look at it and check your files for contracts that you have with Yellow Pages publishers. Make sure the bill is for advertising that you have actually ordered.
If you suspect that you've received a bogus bill for Yellow Pages advertising, please let us know by calling our toll-free Hotline (800) 841-0639 or send us an e-mail at BogusBilling@localsearchassociation.org
There are a number of other helpful things you can also do:
- Report your complaint to your state's attorney general. You can find contact information at www.naag.org or check the blue pages of the phone book under State Government.
- Notify the postal inspector for your area. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service keeps track of schemes like these that are perpetrated through the mail. And, it can take action to help stop such operations.
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint or to get free information on consumer issues, visit www.ftc.gov or call toll-free (877) FTC-HELP [(877)-382-4357]; TTY: (866) 653-4261. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, on-line database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the United States and abroad.
- Contact your local Better Business Bureau. The BBB can issue an advisory to help tip off other potential victims.
- Contact the Yellow Pages publishers with whom you regularly deal. Many of these publishers have active programs to help combat fraudulent Yellow Pages billing.
- Photocopy the solicitation and post it on a bulletin board. Circulate it among your accounts payable staff members so that they too can be on the lookout for bogus bills.