Beware of Yellow Page Phone Scams Against Business Owners

"Unpaid" Yellow Pages ads are the newest way scammers are bilking small-business owners out of millions.
July 25, 2014

If someone calls your business asking you to pay up for a Yellow Pages ad you bought, watch out: It might very well be a scam artist.

The Federal Trade Commission recently took legal action against three Canada-based operations that it claimed duped small-business owners into paying for Yellow Pages ads they never bought or received. Here’s how the scams worked, according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek: A fraudster called and asked to confirm the name, address and phone number of the business in order to complete the Yellow Page ad the business had allegedly purchased. The scammer would later call back to collect money for the supposed ads—sometimes requesting payments as high as $1,800. If a business denied ever agreeing to buy an ad, the fraudster then played a fake voice recording that suggested the owner had agreed to buy the ad.

One group of scam artists managed to con business owners out of more than $4.9 million, according to a complaint filed by the FTC in U.S. District Court in Florida.

While this is the most recent Yellow Pages ad scam, other types of phonebook and business directory listing scams have surfaced in recent years.

Last summer Klaus Mordhorst—owner of Leffler Chartering, a Kinnelon, New Jersey-based maritime arbitration business—received multiple faxes saying he owed a company more than $1,000. The supposed bills came after Mordhorst filled out a faxed form from a company called “Yellow Page New Jersey” that offered him a “free Facebook page” to go with his business listing. After he didn't pay the first one, the letters kept getting worse and threatening to contact credit agencies and file a lawsuit if he didn't send payment quickly. 

After getting multiple faxed bills within weeks, which he ignored, he finally figured out it was a scam—thankfully before he sent any money to the fraudster. He sent a cease and desist letter and contacted the Better Business Bureau, which had received 1,544 complaints against the company within the past three years.  Karin Price-Mueller, the “Bamboozled” columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger, looked into the matter and found out that the company was registered in Dubai.

The Massachusetts Attorney General’s office told her that it had received 131 complaints against the same company, which called itself on its repeated faxed invoices to Mordhorst.

After talking with several experts, Price-Mueller offered this advice to Mordhorst and other business owners who confront suspected Yellow Pages scams: “He should keep an eye on his credit report, and file complaints with BBB, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ... He should also throw one in for the FTC and the Postal Inspection Service, too.”

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Photo: Getty Images