Bogus Directory Listings with a Big Price Tag
There’s a new wrinkle in the old bogus directory scam, and it comes all the way from Slovakia.
For decades, the Better Business Bureau has warned business managers to be cautious when responding to solicitations from directory publishers, and scams surrounding such listings have amplified with the popularity of the Internet. Such directories were known for taking the money for ads from unsuspecting or confused managers who thought they were renewing ads in more familiar yellow books; the BBB often lamented the fact that Ma Bell and the Yellow Pages never copyrighted the “walking fingers” logo so often associated with the popular directory service, so that familiar logo or a subtle representation of it would end up on bogus invoices, lending to the air of legitimacy. Many fake invoices charged companies for ads in books that were never published or distributed to the public. Adding insult to injury, many of the invoices contained hidden contracts obligating the victim to a ten-year contract. Even worse, few of the bogus listings were ever actually published or distributed to the public.
When the Internet arrived on the scene, con men took advantage of the new tool and many folks’ misunderstandings or misperception of the budding medium. Some offers made the new online listings sound like Google and promised that paying advertisers would become household names because consumers would see the ads the instant they logged onto the Web. Business owners were quick to learn about online directories and put their companies on the map; that doesn’t stop con men from billing for listings on sites that either do not exist or are far from being helpful. Most (in)famously, a Pennsylvania barber took an ad in a European online business directory that is, at best, difficult to find even using the best search engines on the market. The barber was charged thousands of dollars for the honor of appearing in the directory, which was mainly marketed to major manufacturers who might take advantage of overseas sales. Even for that target audience, the underpowered, underexposed directory wasn’t a bargain at any price.
At the present, be on the lookout for billings and solicitations from an online directory calling itself Construct Data. The company stands accused of issuing invoices from Slovakia to American businesses who will be participating in fairs, shows, and business exhibitions. How the Slovakian company adopted these contact lists is unclear, although exhibitor lists are often published online well in advance of the actual dates of the show. The invoices say the company is “correcting your listing,” but if you respond, your business will get an invoice for $1,717.00. Many exhibitors may assume that the con man is somehow connected to the show’s management, but he’s not. It seems that if you argue or delay payment, additional charges are added to your bill: Some American companies have been invoiced as much as $56,504 for listings in a cyber-directory that, to date, has not appeared online. Names associated with the directory’s management are Mr. Wolfgang Valvoda, CEO; Mr. Giuseppe Calvi; Mr. Vladimir Novak; Mr. Sven Lund and Ms. Carolyn Davis. Don’t be fooled! While the BBB does not have a European presence, the scam is so widespread that we’ve made an exception and published a report on this business and its strange practices. Not surprisingly, the company has earned an “F” rating with the BBB.
This is a great time for company owners to remind accounts payable staff that bogus billings appear in all shapes, sizes and disguises. Another typical billing scam is one that appears as a check for a small amount ($3 to $7) made out to the target business. What’s not obvious is that, if you endorse the check, you obligate your business to whatever service the mailer is selling that day. Could be a directory listing, might be Internet service, could be your long distance carrier. The company is safe in making the payouts to unwary businesses; the small investment in the check paid to the business is more than recouped when the overpriced monthly service fees are charged.
Please investigate any bogus billings at www.bbb.org.