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Businesses Tell BBB: Open Business Directory Tricked Them To Buy Ads

3/29/2012

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walking fingersSt. Louis, Mo., March 29, 2012 – Several St. Louis area businesses say that a copycat Yellow Pages company recently charged them for online ads they did not want and did not intend to buy.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) suggests that businesses use caution when responding to faxes from Open Business Directory Ltd., which lists offices in Moscow and Boston. Open Business Directory also uses the names Yellow Page USA and Yellow-Page-USA.com.

Open Business Directory has an “F” grade with the BBB, the lowest grade possible. More than 250 complaints have been filed against the company, most of those in the past 12 months.  The complaints have come from 42 states, including 19 from Missouri and Illinois.

Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO, said Open Business Directory is another in a long line of operations that use the Yellow Pages name and the  “walking fingers” logo to trick people into signing up for advertising services.

“These people have plagued small businesses for years,” Corey said. “They spin their webs of deception and lie in wait for the next victim to fall into their trap.”

Corey said the faxes the company is using to solicit business may be illegal. Federal and state law generally bans the sending of most unsolicited facsimile advertisements.

Most of the complainants say they believed they were renewing advertising for a Yellow Pages directory where they had a prior relationship, and not signing up for online listings with a completely different company.  Many small business operators said they were told that the paperwork was simply a way for them to update their current company information.

The owner of a Chesterfield, Mo., company that does heating and cooling work and appliance repair called his run-in with Open Business Directory “a total farce.” He said when the fax arrived at his office, his company was in the midst of renewing its local Yellow Pages ad. 

Thinking he was dealing with the more established Yellow Pages, he filled in some information about his business and signed off on the fax.  He said he did not notice language at the bottom that committed him to two-year contract at $99 per month with the first year payable in advance. He said he ultimately paid the company nearly $400 after Open Business Directory threatened to turn the matter over to debt collection agents which “may have a negative impact on your credit rating.”

A dentist from West St. Louis County said he refused to pay the company anything after receiving a bill for more than $1,100 for an ad he did not want. He said an employee had inadvertently signed off on a contract, believing it was simply a request to update its current Yellow Pages advertising. In the BBB complaint, the dentist called Open Business Directory “relentless in trying to get money out of people.”

The owner of an environmental business in St. Charles, Mo., said her company received a $1,200 bill after a part-time employee returned a fax asking for updated information on the business. She said she refused to pay the bill, even after a company representative threatened to sue. “It’s just a big scam,” she said.

While Open Business Directory has not answered half of its BBB complaints, it has offered similar responses to several past complaints.  In one response, the company maintained that the business signed a valid contract and there was no misrepresentation “as to the terms of the contract, fees payable or indeed the name of the company.  If the terms were not clear then of course the form should not have been signed and returned.”

The copycat companies can use the term “Yellow Pages” and the walking fingers logo because neither is protected by federal copyright or trademark registration.  As a result, the name and logol are used in various forms by companies which provide few or no beneficial advertising services.

The BBB offers the following tips to businesses dealing with Yellow Pages solicitations:

  • Look closely at any Yellow Pages-related solicitation. If you have a question about its legitimacy, contact the Yellow Pages representative you have dealt with for previous advertising.
  • Be especially careful when asked to give supplemental information about your business over the telephone or via mailed, emailed or faxed forms. Supplying such information could be seen as agreeing to an advertising or online listing contract.
  • Channel all invoices through one department and make sure they are cleared with the appropriate executives before they are paid.
  • If you suspect you have received a call, fax or mailing from a bogus or copycat Yellow pages company, contact your state attorney general, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Federal Trade Commission, the BBB and/or the Yellow Pages Association at 1-800-841-0639.
  • Check out a company’s BBB Business Review at www.bbb.org or at 314-645-3300.

Contacts: Michelle Corey, President & CEO, 314-584-6800, mcorey@stlouisbbb.org, or Chris Thetford, Vice President-Communications, 314-584-6743, communications@stlouisbbb.org, or Bill Smith, Trade Practice Investigator, 314-584-6727, tpc1@stlouisbbb.org
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