Yellow Pages misrepresentation scam is on the prowl
By Elean Gersack
Businesses beware. Recently, The Castle Pines Connection nearly fell prey to a misrepresentation scam involving the “let your fingers do the walking” logo and wants to make sure everyone is aware of this particular tactic.
The scam has been around for years and ebbs and flows with many variations. The key to this con job lays in the logo and the company name. Contrary to what one would think, the classic hand with three fingers walking on the pages of a phone book logo is not trademarked, so it can be used freely by any company wanting to associate itself with the branding.
Yellow Pages Online Services and US-Yellow Pages are two companies that send out solicitations to update online business listings, and both companies display logos very similar to the traditional logo. Neither company, however, is affiliated with the predominant yellow pages companies in the United States (DEX One, AT&T Real Yellow Pages, Yellowbook, and the Verizon Superpages.)
In the case with The Castle Pines Connection, it started with a mail solicitation showing The Castle Pines Connection’s business name, address, and phone number.
“The solicitation [from Yellow Pages Online Services] for verification and updating appeared quite legitimate because I had recently changed the port location of our business phone lines,” said Terri Wiebold, editor and owner of The Castle Pines Connection.
Wiebold updated the company address from Village Square “Lane” to “Drive”, added the company’s website address, signed the form, and returned it. Soon after, she received a bill for $329. Attempts to cancel the listing and get further clarification led to multiple conversations with “supervisors.” Soon thereafter, The Castle Pines Connection started receiving calls demanding payment and aggressive threats of collection.
Wiebold admits she was tempted at one point to just pay the money. “Contacting our lawyer to get involved would have cost more than the invoice amount, so I actually contemplated just paying it to be done with it,” she said.
It is important to note that the company (to our knowledge) did nothing illegal and it made the requested changes to its online listing. The company did, however, use deception and fine print disguised in ambiguous terminology to (quite convincingly) make it appear as though there was no cost associated with the listing or making the change.
Online research revealed that these types of companies prey on small business owners and operate for a while, fall under investigation, shut down, and then reappear again in another location.
“I knew enough not to pay the invoice, but the fact that I signed the document [even after reading the fine print*] and this got past me, made me think about how vulnerable other small businesses are,” said Wiebold.
According to Sergeant Ron Hanavan, public information officer for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO), individuals and businesses should always be cautious when they don’t initiate the contact. “Generally, you should suspect it is a scam until proven otherwise. Don’t be afraid to call family members to see what they think, search online, or call law enforcement,” said Hanavan. He also emphasized that reporting incidents to local law enforcement, the Better Business Bureau (BBB), the Attorney General’s Office, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is advised, too.
“When I called to report the incident, the FTC was ‘very familiar’ with the company and its tactics,” said Wiebold. “The same was true of the BBB.”
Hanavan advised that if you are a victim (meaning you gave money), call the DCSO dispatch at 303-660-7500 and have a deputy take a report. If you received a request but were not victimized, you can make a report online at www.dcsheriff.net and click on the “online citizen reporting” link. The DCSO also has a plethora of resources available to assist with fraud prevention.
*In fine print on the reverse side of the document there was a notation that the online listing was included FREE. What isn’t made clear is that by signing the form to authorize any change, you then fall into the category of “owner verified,” which is subject to a fee.