According to YPPA, “One of the largest categories of advertisers in Yellow Pages directories are electrical, plumbing, hvac, and other contractors,” and are thus being specifically targeted by con artists.
Because the highly recognizable “walking fingers” logo was never trademarked by AT&T, fraudulent bills may look like originals, and it may not occur to businesspeople to question the invoices’ validity. Subtle differences, however, distinguish the fake invoices.
The most recent scam shows a form that claims the directory will be distributed annually with a circulation of 3,000 CD-ROMs. According to YPPA, “Although most bogus bills for the Yellow Pages advertising are generally under $200, the fax directory scheme invoice is for an astounding $965.15.”
“Bogus solicitations generally come in the form of an official-looking invoice requesting payment of a listing in a print or online directory,” said Karen Stanek, YPPA vice president. “They are designed to mislead recipients into thinking that they come from a legitimate publisher.”
Ron Berry, senior vice president for the Council of BBB, said that even those who have not been victimized can make a report. If you’ve seen such a solicitation, the Bureau wants to know about it.
“Once the BBB has information, we can warn other businesses, making it more difficult for con artists to successfully prey upon those who don’t recognize the scam,” said Berry. “Reporting scams also helps authorities appreciate the scope of the problem and determine what actions must be taken to combat the situation.”
ApprehendedAccording to the YPPA, while it is extremely difficult to apprehend and prosecute those who perpetuate bogus billing schemes, three con artists recently received federal prison terms for sending out more than $160 million in “renewal invoices” for Yellow Pages advertising to individuals, businesses, and organizations in all 50 states.
The convicted felons carried out the scheme from their native Canada, with help from conspirators in the United States who opened mailboxes at commercial mail-receiving agencies throughout the U.S.
“Victims were sent a pre-addressed envelope to mail their checks to these agencies, which forwarded the mail to a Canadian mail-receiving agency in Toronto,” said the YPPA. “The money received was then deposited in Canadian banks.”
Schemes have also been concocted for over-the-phone use.
Most people are familiar with telemarketing calls made to people’s homes. YPPA and BBB say telemarketing scams have taken on a different shape, calling business offices.
In these situations, the YPPA says fraudulent telemarketers misrepresent their status as a regular supplier and ship products without authorization.
Others falsely advertise the availability of venture capital or notify businesses that they automatically qualify for a line of credit for a large loan.
What to Look ForThere are several things that differentiate a bogus bill from an actual bill for a Yellow Pages ad.
Protect YourselfAccording to the YPPA and BBB, there are a few things contractors can do to prevent this scheme from interfering with their business:
For more information, or to make a report, contact either organization online at www. yppa.org (YPPA website), or www.bbb.org (BBB website), or contact your local BBB.
Publication date: 01/29/2001