When Yellow Pages Invoices Are Bogus [PDF]
That invoice bearing the familiar “walking fingers” logo and the name “Yellow Pages” could be a camouflaged invitation to lose money.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, and the Yellow Pages Association (YPA) caution businesses that unscrupulous promoters are soliciting advertising for online, alternative, or nonexistent business directories. Although these directories appear to be legitimate Yellow Pages publications, they are not distributed to the public, posted on the Web, or promoted as promised. As a result, the directories — if they exist at all — offer no benefits to businesses that pay to advertise in them.
The solicitation to buy directory ad space or membership may look like an invoice and bear the “walking fingers” logo and the Yellow Pages name. Neither the name nor the logo is protected by federal copyright or trademark registration. That’s how fraudulent promoters are able to lead businesses to believe they are affiliated with local telephone directories distributed in a particular area.
Of course, not all solicitations you receive in the mail look like bills, invoices, or account statements. 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 don’t want or need, such as Internet access or membership in an online directory. Be skeptical when you receive offers from strangers. 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, or
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.
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.
For More Information and to File a Complaint
If you think you’ve been victimized in a fraud scheme that involves the U.S. Mail, submit a Mail Fraud Complaint Form to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/forms/MailFraudComplaint.aspx or call the U.S. Postal Service’s Mail Fraud Complaint Center at 1-800-372-8347.
Alert your State Attorney General. You can find contact information at www.naag.org, or check the blue pages of the phone book under State Government.
Submit a complaint to the Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org.
In addition, you may direct questions about Yellow Pages publishers to: Local Search Association, Connell Corporate Park, 400 Connell Drive, Suite 1100, Berkeley Heights, NJ 07922; www.localsearchassociation.org; 1-800-841-0639.
You also may contact the Consumer Response Center at the Federal Trade Commission.
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 ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The FTC enters consumer complaints into the Consumer Sentinel Network, a secure online database and investigative tool used by hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.