What is the “Yellow Pages” Scam?
The “Yellow Pages” scam continues to affect small business owners despite numerous investigations and enforcement actions by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in recent years.
In general, the scam involves solicitations from publications that pretend to be affiliated with the real Yellow Pages. Neither the name “Yellow Pages,” nor the recognizable “walking fingers” logo bear copyright or trademark protection. Therefore, scammers can readily implement the Yellow Pages name and logo to represent their own publications and directories.
These solicitations will often resemble an invoice for membership fees, or for payment of advertising space in the scammer’s directory. Although the directories may appear legitimate they are unlikely to be promoted as promised or may not even exist at all.
How do the Scammers Operate?
The “Yellow Pages” scam can be extremely sophisticated and it is important for small business owners to be wary of the deceptive practices that scammers consistently employ. The scam may begin with a cold call to verify information regarding your “free” listing in the Yellow Pages for membership renewal purposes. Subsequently, scammers will send your business an invoice from the “Yellow Pages” for a new business listing. Along with the familiar Yellow Pages name and logo, the invoice may even list a 1-800 number, email, and fake website the scammers have created in an effort to appear as authentic as possible.
Small businesses should be on the lookout for solicitations that resemble invoices, bear the Yellow Pages name and logo, and lead you to believe that your business is already listed in their directory.
What Should You Do?
If your business receives a solicitation that bears the indicia of a “Yellow Pages” scam you should request additional information from the solicitor. Request information about how, where, and how often the publisher’s directory is distributed and check with your local Yellow Pages publisher to see if they are affiliated with the solicitor. Also, check with consumer protection officials in your state for prior complaints against the solicitor.
If you suspect that you have been a victim of the “Yellow Pages” scam, document the incident by filing official complaints. Contact your state Attorney General’s office, and Better Business Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission, and the United States Postal Service. If in doubt you should consult with an attorney.
For additional information please refer to the NFIB Small Business Legal Center’s "Yellow Pages" scam fact sheet below or download a copy.
May 31, 2012
"Yellow Pages" Scam Factsheet
What your business should know about business directory scams
What is the “yellow pages” scam?
The “yellow pages” scam is a deceptive practice used to bilk payments from small businesses, nonprofits, and other organizations by deceiving them into ordering and paying for unwanted listings in online business directories. Businesses are deceived into paying for advertising space in what they falsely believe to be the actual Yellow Pages directory, but may in fact be an alternative or altogether nonexistent directory. Often these directories are not distributed to the public at all, and they therefore offer no benefit to the businesses that pay to advertise in them.
What to watch for?
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has identified a number of characteristics that businesses should be aware of when they receive a solicitation for advertising space in a business directory.
- Resembles an invoice.
- Features the name “Yellow Pages” and bears the familiar “walking fingers” logo. Federal copyright and trademark laws protect neither the name nor logo.
- Suggests an affiliation with a recognizable Yellow Pages publisher.
- Leads you to believe that your business is already listed and you are simply being billed for past services.
For additional information please visit the FTC website at www.ftc.gov.
How to protect your business?
Your business should consider taking the following precautions if you receive a piece of mail and are unsure of how to respond:
- Determine whether the mail you have received is a solicitation or a bill/invoice. The United States Postal Service (U.S.P.S) requires a disclaimer if it is a solicitation. Read it carefully!
- Request information from the publisher, including previous copies of their directory, distribution figures and methods, and where the publisher primarily distributes their directory.
- Check with your local Yellow Pages publisher to see if they are affiliated with the solicitor.
- Check with state consumer protection officials for prior complaints against the solicitor.
If you believe that you have been victimized then how should you proceed?
If you believe that your business has been victimized in a “yellow book” scam involving the U.S.P.S then you can submit a Mail Fraud Complaint Form at https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/forms/MailFraudComplaint.aspx or call the U.S.P.S Mail Fraud Complaint Center at 1-800-372-8347.
You might also consider submitting a complaint to the Better Business Bureau, and alerting the Attorney General in your state.
If in doubt, speak to a trusted attorney.
This NFIB alert does not constitute legal advice, and you should consider consulting an attorney about any laws and regulations that are applicable in your state, locality or particular type of business.
Updated May 21, 2012