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Don’t Let a Directory Scam Get Your Number

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Reports to the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Scam Tracker don’t just come from consumers; businesses are also sharing information about disingenuous tactics and shady operators. Scams are typically under-reported, so though there are almost 100 scams on file surrounding deceptive directory solicitations, that number is likely much greater.

Here’s how a scam works: The company gets an invoice in the mail for what turns out to be a fake directory ad; the scammers are hoping that the company’s accounting department will just pay the invoice without checking to see who ordered the ad.

Another angle (and one that BBB is seeing more often lately) is when the scammer calls the business claiming to be “verifying your information” for a directory or “updating our records.”

The caller asks a bunch of questions, including the address for the business. An important factor to this scam is getting the employee to say the word “yes” at some point. Soon, the business receives an invoice for several hundred dollars for a directory ad. The invoice often fraudulently uses the name “Yellow Pages,” or its famous walking fingers logo to appear authentic. If the business protests that it never ordered the listing, the scammer offers, as “proof,” a recording of the original phone conversation — which may be edited to make it sound like the employee said “yes” to advertising.

Yet another scheme is an email, fax or letter asking the company to “verify” its contact information for a free listing or page on a social network. Another variation is the receipt (by mail or fax) of the prepared “ad,” asking the business to confirm the information. Buried in the fine print is a statement that returning the mailer or replying to the fax is an agreement to purchase the ad or directory listing.

Whatever the scenario, if the company refuses to pay, the scammer makes collection calls, sends urgent collection notices and even threatens to report the company to a collection agency — and can even take it to court, or ruin the credit of the owners and employees.

Often, the business will pay up just to get the scammers to leave it alone, but that rarely works. Once scammers have pegged a business as an “easy mark,” they will be back with more scams in the future.

Your best bet is to simply ignore the communication. While you’re at it, share it with BBB at bbb.org/scamtracker.

Angie Barnett is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland. She can be reached at 410-347-3990 and abarnett@greatermd.bbb.org.