Saturday, March 23, 2013

Beware of Business Directory Scams

The smooth-talking voice on the other end of the line claims to need some information to “confirm” your existing phone book listing. Fast forward a few weeks and your mailbox is jammed with “invoices” threatening legal action if you don’t pay up. Chances are you’ve been hit by a business directory scam.

How the Scam Works:

The Call. First, con artists make cold calls to offices. They ask the person answering the phone to “confirm” the address, telephone number, and other information, claiming it’s for a listing the company has in the yellow pages or a similar business directory. The scam works because fraudsters convince the person who picks up the phone that they’re just “verifying” an arrangement the company already has with the directory.

The Bill. The con artist then sends urgent “invoices” for $500 or more — sometimes including a copy of the “directory.” They’re usually worthless and are never distributed or promoted as promised. Often, they’re just websites with listings of various businesses. 

In many cases, the person paying the bills will simply cut a check, not realizing that the company never agreed to pay the hefty fee for the directory. But if businesses resist, the scammers turn up the heat, threatening collection or legal action to get payment. They may use the name of the person who answered the phone or play a “verification tape” as “proof” that the company owes them money.

At this stage, many companies pay up just to stop the hounding. What they don’t know is that they’ll likely get more bogus invoices — either from the same scam artist or from others who have bought their contact information for a new scheme.

How can I protect my business?

  • Train your staff to spot this scam. In addition to your regular receptionist, talk to everyone who may pick up the phone.
  • Inspect your invoices. Make sure you are paying only legitimate expenses. Don’t pay for products or services you’re not sure you ordered.
  • Verify to clarify. Many business directory scam artists are headquartered in Canada, but use post office boxes or mail drops to make it look like they are in the United States. Before paying, check them out for free at, and read the BBB’s report on them.
  • File a complaint. If a scammer is sending you bogus bills, speak up. Visit to complain to the BBB. And let the FTC know by filing a complaint at or calling 877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).

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