The business directory scam strikes again
Think twice before confirming your contact information for a directory.
July 17, 2014

You work at a small business, nonprofit, church or local government agency, and you get a call:  Someone wants you to confirm your contact information for a directory. Sure, no problem.   

But there is a problem:  Soon, you’re opening an invoice for hundreds of dollars for a listing in an online business directory — something you never asked for or wanted.

The FTC is alleging that three telemarketing agencies in Canada, which did business under names like Your Yellow Pages and OnlineYellowPagesToday, used that very m.o. to target small offices in the U.S.

According to the FTC, the scam didn’t always stop with the invoice. When people disputed the invoices, the companies pointed to recordings of their initial calls — sometimes using edited or altered versions — to “prove” that employees had okayed the charges. Businesses or organizations that still refused to pay got harassing calls telling them they’d owe interest and legal fees and would be reported to credit reporting agencies. Sometimes, the FTC alleged, the scammers went even further, pretending to be debt collection companies, getting people to pay for a promise that they wouldn’t call again. In the face of threats, many people just paid.

So what can you do to protect your business or organization from this kind of fraud?

  1. Train your staff. Educate your employees about how these scams work. In fact, send them a link to this blog post andarticle.
  1. Inspect your invoices. Depending on the size and nature of your business, consider implementing a purchase order system to make sure you’re paying only legitimate expenses. At a minimum, designate a small group of employees with authority to approve purchases and pay the bills.
  1. Verify to clarify. Check a company out for free at bbb.org, and read the BBB’s report on them. Also try doing an online search using the company name and words like “complaint” or “scam.”
  1. File a complaint. If you’re getting bogus bills, file a complaint with the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint and with the BBB. Complaints help shape the FTC’s law enforcement agenda, so it’s important to sound off when you spot a scam. Concerned about business directory fraudsters’ threats to tarnish your credit if you don’t pay? Many will simply drop the matter — and may even provide a refund — if they know you’ve complained. If the scheme involved the U.S. mail, submit a Mail Fraud Complaint Form to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. You also can alert your state Attorney General.