Yellow Pages Fraud
How can scammers trick you?
Yellow Pages scams are a tricky breed because they are barely legal. The name “Yellow Pages” and its associated “walking fingers” logo were never trademarked, so scammers may legally replicate the name or logo on fake invoices. Often times, the scammer will use the logo and a slightly different alias to pose as the well-known company. Variations include Yellow Page B.V., Yellow Publishing Ltd and Yellow Data Services Ltd., which the FTC sued in 2011 for making false representations to businesses in the U.S, but the problem still persists.
What are Yellow Pages scams?
Yellow Pages fraud may come in the form of mailed, faxed, or emailed documents. They contain specific information about the organization receiving the invoice, a Yellow Page ID number and usually a request to renew an advertisement or verify correct information. Scammers hope organizations will assume that by signing the document, they are updating a current listing. In reality, the documents are soliciting for new business and a signature may enter the organization into a binding payment agreement for new registration in a bogus directory. If organizations fall for the scam, it is often very difficult to cancel the agreement and avoid late fees if payment is refused. Scammers often succeed at harassing the organization until it buckles and provides payment simply to evade further trouble.
How do scammers get away with it?
Scammers must be careful, because there is a fine line between what is legal when producing these types of documents. Although there is no law that says companies cannot replicate the Yellow Pages name and logo, the U.S. Postal Service requires that solicitations provide disclaimers somewhere on the document in at least 30-point type. One of the following disclaimers must be used:
“THIS IS A SOLICITATION FOR THE 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,” or “THIS IS NOT A BILL. THIS IS A SOLICITATION. YOU ARE UNDER NO OBLIGATION TO PAY UNLESS YOU ACCEPT THIS OFFER.”
The FTC can come down on the scammers for falsely representing that organizations have a preexisting relationship with their company and for too closely identifying their company as an affiliate of a local yellow pages directory.
How do you report a scam?
You can contact the U.S. Postal Service or your local Better Business Bureau to file a complaint. Please see information provided by The ‘Lectric Law Library on how to prepare a notarized affidavit.
How do you avoid falling prey to Yellow Pages fraud?
When in doubt, turn to research. Before signing any document, consult with the individual responsible for purchasing services on your organization’s behalf and ask about the alleged advertisement or listing pending renewal. Reference any files you may have that indicate a previous business relationship with the company in question. Contact the FTC for information on pending lawsuits, the Better Business Bureau to ask about filed complaints, or you may also call your local Yellow Pages directory and ask if they have any affiliation.