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The offices of KelownaNow.com and Csek Creative recently received a suspicious fax. At first glance, it appears to be a confirmation of business information from Yellow Pages Group. But on closer inspection, it all starts to unravel.
For a start, the main website listed on the fax (Yellowpages-BritishColumbia.net) is not available. A total of 3 different websites are used in the verbiage of the fax, but only Yellow-Pages-BritishColumbia.Net is available.
Our search for Yellow Holding Ltd - the company listed on the fax - led to a professional looking website that did not contain contact information beyond that of an online submission form.
A look into Yellow-Holding.com shows that they have an offshore DNS server (Domain Name Server) and that their IP address is out of Romania.
The logo on the fax closely resembles the old logo for Yellowpages - fingers walking through a book. Yellowpages changed their logo in 2010 to that of the classic “walking fingers” in an updated drop shape (see below).
While the fax appears to be nothing more than a simple verification of business details for a directory, a closer examination of the fine print reveals that the document is in fact a contract and in signing it, you are agreeing to advertise in a completely different directory that isn’t affiliated with yellowpages.ca for two years at a rate of $1,129.00 per year.
“Yes, we are aware of this latest rash of fraudulent solicitations of businesses by a company purporting to be Yellow Pages,” said Fiona Story, Senior Manager of Public Relations for Yellow Pages Group. “We take these types of activities seriously and work closely with the Competition Bureau to halt them.”
In a release from the Better Business Bureau this past May, BBB CEO Frank Cilona stated, “This is clearly deceptive. Yellow Holding, LTD is clearly hoping businesses will think this is merely a verification for a local listing and not pay any attention to the small print disclaimer at the bottom of the page."
Contract fine print:
“THIS IS NOT A BILL, INVOICE, OR STATEMENT OF ACCOUNT DUE. YOU ARE UNDER NO OBLIGATION TO MAKE ANY PAYMENTS ON ACCOUNT OF THIS OFFER UNLESS YOU ACCEPT THIS OFFER. THIS IS A SOLICITATION FOR THE ORDER OF GOODS AND SERVICES, OR BOTH. WE ARE NOT AFFILIATED WITH YOUR LOCAL PHONE COMPANY AND THIS DIRECTORY IS NOT DISTRIBUTED TO ALL LOCAL TELEPHONE SUBSCRIBERS. IF YOU ALREADY ADVERTISE IN YOUR LOCAL PHONE COMPANY'S YELLOW PAGES AND ACCEPT THIS OFFER THIS YELLOW PAGES DIRECTORY LISTING WILL BE IN ADDITION TO YOUR EXISTING YELLOW PAGES ADVERTISING. THIS IS A NEW NATIONWIDE YELLOW PAGE ADVERTISING SOLICITATION AND YOU HEREBY ORDER THE ABOVE GIVEN BUSINESS LISTING AT THE DIRECTORY WWW.YELLOW-PAGES-BRITISHCOLUMBIA.COM FOR A TERM OF TWO YEARS, AT A PRICE OF 1,129.00 CAD PER YEAR. PAYMENT TERMS ARE 21 DAYS FROM THE DATE OF STARTING TO PUBLISH YOUR COMPANY'S DETAILS. TERMINATION OF THIS AGREEMENT IS REQUIRED IN WRITING AT LEAST THREE MONTHS PRIOR TO ITS EXPIRY. OTHERWISE IT WILL RENEW FOR ONE YEAR. THE CLIENT CAN ORDER CHANGES OF THEIR BUSINESS DETAILS AT ANY TIME. FREE OF CHARGE BY SENDING A REQUEST BY EMAIL TO INFO@YELLOW-PAGES-BRITISHCOLUMBIA.NET
Story explained that Yellow Pages Group makes numerous resources available to people and small businesses that suspect misleading and suspicious activities:
We have an annual awareness campaign around fraudulent solicitations which takes place during Fraud Prevention Month (March)
We host a fraud prevention section with examples and guides on identifying fake solicitations on our website for Yellow Pages advertisers
We have a Visual guide to identifying fake invoices
We provide downloadable pamphlets and guides to help small businesses develop fraud prevention programs as well as identify fake Yellow Pages Group solicitations or invoices as well as where to turn if they suspect a scam
We regularly communicate via email with our client base to alert them when rashes of fraudulent solicitations are detected and all our sales team and customer service departments are equipped with information to answer questions as well
We work closely with the Competition Bureau and the Anti-Fraud Centre to report and stop advertising scams.
According to Sgt. Wade Seversen with the Kelowna RCMP, these solicitations are not illegal and this isn't something that the RCMP would get involved in. So it truly is a case of buyer beware – or waiting for a long and drawn out legal process.
“We’ve taken legal action against other companies conducting fraudulent solicitations using the Yellow Pages brand and have received favourable rulings,” said Story.
In March 2012, Yellow Pages Group brought a successful case against four companies that operated a similar, if not identical, scam. The companies were ordered to pay an administrative monetary penalty of $8 million and restitution to everyone who had paid them money. Unfortunately, it seems that not all of the faux-Yellow companies got the memo, and business owners should still be mindful of the fine print.
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