Yellow Pages Invoice Scams Proliferate

February 11, 2009
Many businesses across the country have received what appears to be invoices for ad space in the familiar, locally distributed, yellow pages directories.

The Better Business Bureau warns that these invoices are actually solicitations for listings in alternative business directories that differ from the well-known yellow pages. In fact, the alternative directories may not be that widely distributed, can be of little or no value to advertisers, or may never be published at all.

The solicitation from an alternative business directory may look likea legitimate invoice. It may feature the name "yellow pages"or include the familiar "walking fingers" logo and falsely statethat the publisher is affiliated with the local telephone company or anotherbona fide yellow pages publisher.

Because the name "yellow pages" and the "walking fingers"logo are not protected by any federal trademark registration, they can be used by anyone. Potential advertisers are often misled by the name orlogo to think that the outfit using them is affiliated with the publisher that distributes local telephone books and yellow pages directories. However, there is no connection between publishers of alternative directories and those of the well-known Yellow Pages.

Language used on the ad solicitations, such as "prompt payment is necessary to guarantee ad placement" or "directory listingrenewal invoice", only adds to the confusion.

There will always be schemers who send disguised solicitations, but the law states that it is illegal to mail a bill, invoice or statementof account due that is really a solicitation, unless it boldly bears specific disclaimers. It should clearly state, in large type that "this is not a bill."

Businesses can protect themselves by alerting their accounting department or bill-payers to be on the look-out for disguised solicitations and carefully check suspicious bills from companies with which they don't normally do business. To check the reliability of the company that is sending the solicitation, businesses may contact the BBB where the company is located.