Have you ever received one of those bills for yellow pages services that you didn’t order? Most small business owners have received at least one of these bills during their business life. And plenty of small business owners just pay them. But the Yellow Pages Association wants to put an end to that by warning you about these bogus bills.
Bogus bills are misleading solicitations sent by regular mail or e-mail that resemble invoices, account statements, rebates or refund checks. As they often bear the “walking fingers” logo and the Yellow Pages name – neither of which is protected by federal copyright or trademark registration – it is a way fraudulent promoters get undue advertising fees. Once unsuspecting businesses pay the bills or deposit the checks, advertising may or may not be delivered; and if it does appear, it may be in a print or online directory with limited distribution and usage. Inevitably, it is not the advertising the business owners were led to believe they would receive.
“It’s essential that employees responsible for paying bills or placing orders for their company are educated and aware of these dubious solicitations disguised as invoices,” said Stephanie Hobbs, Yellow Pages Association (YPA) vice president of marketing communications. “YPA encourages businesses to report suspicious offers to the appropriate authority to help combat the problem and warn other businesses about these scams.”
YPA offers these seven tips about bogus billing:
1. Examine bills closely – Look for fictitious reference or account numbers and check files for existing contracts with Yellow Pages publishers to ensure the invoice is for advertising ordered. Be suspicious if the invoice includes a threat that your Yellow Pages listing will be deleted if you don’t pay immediately.
2. Bills are typically less than $300 – The “amount due” is typically less than $300, an amount that can be routinely paid without arising accounting suspicion.
3. Yellow Pages logo is no guarantee – The walking fingers logo and the Yellow Pages name are not trademarked and are not a guarantee of a legitimate Yellow Pages company or directory.
4. Look for and read disclaimers – Solicitations are required to carry the notice: THIS IS NOT A BILL. THIS IS A SOLICITATION. YOU ARE UNDER NO OBLIGATION TO PAY THE AMOUNT STATED ABOVE UNLESS YOU ACCEPT THIS OFFER.
5. Don’t cash refund/rebate checks – Businesses may receive checks that look like a refund or rebate check. By cashing the check, you may be agreeing to be billed monthly for unwanted advertising services.
6. Alert staff that receive and pay bills – Circulate phony invoices among your accounts payable staff. Photocopy and post the solicitation on a bulletin board visible to everyone.
7. Report suspicious bills – Contact the following agencies that work to prevent deceptive business practices:
* Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – http://www.ftc.gov or 1-877-FTC-HELP
* U.S. Postal Inspection Service Mail Fraud – 1-800-372-8347
* State Attorney General’s Office
* Better Business Bureau – http://www.bbb.org