The BBB has received hundreds of complaints from around the country regarding a number of companies that have been tricking small businesses and nonprofit organizations into paying for unwanted listings in online business directories. The complaint records show that unscrupulous companies will use many different strategies to get money from businesses.
Some business owners alleged that companies have mailed or faxed fake invoices for Yellow Pages advertising or similar directory services. Others allege that sales representatives have contacted their business to sell advertising in directories that do not exist.
Another method reported to BBB included a company calling a business to confirm the address and phone number, then sending a bill for a service the business “agreed to” on the phone. Often, the company will doctor the recording to make it appear the company agreed to buy advertising.
Companies looking to defraud business owners will often incorporate “yellow pages” into their names, as neither that name nor the walking fingers logo is copyrighted. The problem has been so widespread that The Federal Trade Commission issued an action recently against Jan Marks; Yellow Page Marketing B.V., also doing business as Yellow Page B.V. and Yellow Page (Netherlands) B.V.; Yellow Publishing Ltd.; and Yellow Data Services Ltd. for these deceptive practices.
The BBB is warning business owners to be careful when conducting business with anyone purporting to be with the Yellow Pages and offers these tips for business:
- Verify the company name. Directories may have names that sound alike, so look closely to see who the offer is from. Independent directory publishers use the term “yellow pages” as well as local telephone companies.
- Do your research. Once you have the exact name of the company publishing the directory, check out its BBB Business Review to see its complaint history and other information.
- Watch for fraud. Alert your accounting personnel and office administrators to be on the lookout for disguised solicitations, fake invoices and fraudulent phone calls. Read Yellow Pages offers carefully, including any small print. Look for terms and conditions, as well as costs.
- Route the calls to a single employee. Any calls to confirm directory listings or advertising should be forwarded to one employee or small department. That employee should be trained in how to confirm that a directory is legitimate and keep a list of every directory your company has agreed to be in. This ensures that your advertising and directory listings are tracked, and prevents scammers from claiming that another employee agreed to charges.