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Let your fingers walk from  this ‘Yellow Pages’ scam

THE FIXER HAS SAVED YOU

$1,419,666

Updated: November 30, 2012 6:16AM



D ear Fixer: I work for a college. A couple of weeks ago, a representative from Yellow Pages called to demand payment for some advertising services. They said the fee for listing our company information on the Yellow Pages website for the past two years came to $400.

The caller said the offer had been accepted two years ago by my supervisor over the phone.

She went on to say that we had to confirm the listing for an additional two years before their offer expires, and that we are still liable for the $400 balance.

She turned what I expected to be an average sales call into a preemptive collection/ransom call. She called at least three more times.

After the calls, this company sent me a solicitation for $396. The form did state “This is not a bill.” However, it came right after a telemarketer demanded we pay this $400 balance.

By the way, they never provided any proof that we even ordered this service.

I’d like Yellow Pages to be aware of how their salespeople and telemarketers are representing the company.

Gina O., Chicago

Dear Gina: First, let us say your employer is lucky to have you in their office. Your intuition was right on about this fishy “Yellow Pages” solicitation.

This is not the normal Yellow Pages that for years landed on our doorsteps or in our mailboxes and is now online. The Fixer was happy to hear you did not pay the $396 “bill,” as many others have.

This is an old scam that is seeing a resurgence in Chicago and elsewhere, with the scammers getting more sophisticated each time.

Steve Bernas, president of the local Better Business Bureau, told us he just heard from another victim — an owner of a local golf business — who assumed it was the real directory ad he usually buys each year. He sent the money without thinking.

“He only realized he made a mistake after the fact,” Bernas told us.

The scam works so well because the phrase “yellow pages” and the “walking fingers” logo were never trademarked. So any Joe Schmoe in this country (and increasingly, overseas) can claim they are publishing a directory, slap that familiar logo on the “invoice” and start pressuring businesses and other organizations into paying up.

Some of these outfits do publish directories, but they aren’t widely distributed. Others don’t even do that much.

We’ve heard of small businesses, schools, churches and non-profits being hit by this scam.

You told us you got hit with rude, aggressive phone calls followed by the mailed document asking for payment.

In other variations, the scam is more complex. In some cases, the scammers will call and quickly ask a series of seemingly innocuous questions, such as “Are you authorized to make decisions at your company?” They record the victim’s voice saying “yes” to each one. Then they dub in questions from a sales pitch so that the “yes” answers appear to be giving approval.

If the business or organization complains, the scammers will trot out their recording as “proof” that the bill is genuine.

Beth Milito, senior executive counsel for the National Federation of Independent Business, told The Fixer that it gets even worse for some small businesses when the scammers pretend they’re sending them into collections.

“As a small business, their credit is their lifeline,” Milito told us. For the scammers, “This is easy money. ‘Pay me this $500 and I’ll go away.’ “

Some scammers will even offer to settle it for a smaller amount, which would be laughable if people didn’t fall for it.

The best thing to do if this happens again is to call the telemarketers’ bluff and ignore the mailed invoices. They can’t and won’t sue you. And report it to consumer agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission

(FTC.gov), Illinois Attorney General (illinoisattorneygeneral.gov) and the Better Business Bureau (Chicago.BBB.org).



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