Deceptive directories still using ‘Yellow Pages’ name, logo to scam small businesses

scam invoice

After years of scattered success scamming citizens, look-alike business directories continue to target small businesses and companies across the country using the Yellow Pages name and walking fingers logo to swindle profits from proprietors, reports the BBB and FTC.

The Examiner itself was recently targeted but didn’t fall for the old fraudster favorite; however, other businesses have complained to the BBB that they paid invoices sent to them by this deceptive directory enterprise, either because they were tricked or in order to get the crooked companies to stop hounding them.

NationalYellowPages.com recently solicited The Examiner via mail asking that the business owner “verify” the company’s local online listing as printed on correspondence, which looks like an invoice but warns, “This is not a bill.” A space is provided for the business owner or a company representative to print and sign his or her name in order to “verify” the information. More than just confirming the information is correct, though, by signing, the business representative is actually entering into a contract with the directory company.

Small text just under the signature line reads, “I have read & agree to Terms & Conditions on back.” The print below the box reveals, “Signing and returning this solicitation is acceptance of the offer.” The fee for the “service” is $329 semi-annually, or $658 per year.

By including a familiar household name and symbol in their solicitation, NationalYellowPages.com is likely attempting to lend credibility to its mailings.

The term “yellow pages” was reportedly coined in 1883 when a printer in Cheyenne, Wyoming was printing a phone directory and ran out of white paper, so he used yellow paper. Even so, most Americans are familiar with the “Yellow Pages” directory and the walking fingers logo as made famous by the Bell System and AT&T. Neither the name nor the symbol were copyrighted in the U.S., meaning both may be used by companies not actually affiliated with the directory generally thought of as the Yellow Pages.

The Federal Trade Commission, an independent consumer protection agency, warned about “The Directory Listing Scam” and the subterfuge utilized by swindlers working the con in June 2014, but BBB Dispute Resolution Director Jay Sheppard told The Examiner that directory listing scams have plagued Southeast Texas and business owners throughout the U.S. for years.

According to Sheppard, when the con artists see that a scam works, they keep doing it until it doesn’t. Consumers get wise to the deception and the scammers move on to something else, but they often fall back on tried and tested trickery that has brought them profit in the past, recycling ruses and resurrecting the rackets time and time again.

“It’s kind of an ongoing thing,” Sheppard remarked. “Many of the scams we see are done over and over. The scammers will do them for a while, and then stop for a while. The scams tend to cycle in and out over time.”

The BBB’s website provides extensive information about the company that sent the recent solicitation to The Examiner, NationalYellowPages.com, also using the names Ad TelAmerica, Yellow Pages Directories, Yellow Pages Directories Processing Center, AD TeleAmericanMail Inc., and National Yellow Pages Directories. Ad TelAmerica’s address and one of its phone numbers listed are the same as those provided on the solicitation from NationalYellowPages.com. The corporation received an F rating from the BBB, and 228 complaints were lodged against Ad TelAmerica over the last three years, all generally criticizing the company’s deceptive practices.

Ad TelAmerica sometimes threatens to renew the service unless payment is made, suggesting that businesses who signed the misleading contract would be on the hook for another six-month renewal if they do not pay what the directory already invoiced.

Some contacted by the directory company have also complained that Ad TelAmerica representatives have threatened to turn them into collections, negatively impacting their credit, and even with litigation, according to information on the BBB website.

Barbara Sommers is listed by the BBB as the principal and president of Ad TelAmerica. The BBB cautions that Sommers is the subject of deceptive practices allegations by the Texas Attorney General in relation to directory listing solicitations by Topaz Promotions LLC and Ad TelAmerica Inc. under numerous business names.

July 13, 2015, the Texas Attorney General filed suit against Topaz Promotions LLC dba Yellow Pages Online Services, Ypedia and Ypedia Promotions, Ad TelAmerica, Inc., dba Yellow Pages Directories, and Barbara Sommers, individually, alleging that Sommers utilized “misleading solicitations to business customers by way of direct mailers.” The suit further alleges that business customers who did send back the mailer were presented with an invoice totaling $298 to $329 for the online listing, which the attorney general deemed to be of “limited value to the business customers.”

The Texas Attorney General is seeking civil penalties and injunctive relief against Sommers under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, but the action is still pending.

Sheppard says if consumers feel they are being targeted by a scam or have questions pertaining to fraudulent practices, they should contact the BBB at (409) 835-5348, 800-685-7650 or 855-BBB-SETX. To learn more about scams impacting the local community, visit the BBB website at www.bbb.org/southeast-texas/.

shadow