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FTC Halts Internet ‘Yellow Pages’ Scammers

Posted: July 18, 2014

New Federal Trade Commission (FTC) actions have stopped three Montreal-based telemarketing operations that allegedly bilked millions of dollars from small businesses, churches, nonprofits and local government agencies by charging them for unwanted listings in online "yellow pages" directories. In addition, a federal court has entered a judgment and order against another Montreal-based directory scam in a case brought by the FTC last year.

"Businesses and other organizations should train their staff to hang up on cold calls about business directory services," said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "Report them to the FTC. We can pursue these cases even if the scammers hide in another country."

At the request of the FTC and the Office of the Florida Attorney General, federal judges in Florida temporarily halted and froze the assets of two operations, National Business Advertising and Your Yellow Pages. In another case brought by the FTC in Washington state, a federal judge temporarily halted the unlawful business practices of another operation, OnlineYellowPagesToday.com. In all three cases, the government seeks to permanently stop the illegal practices and make the defendants return victims' money. In a fourth case brought by the FTC in November 2013, Online Public Yellow Pages, a federal judge entered a $15.6 million judgment against the defendants and banned them from the directory business.

The defendants in these cases allegedly sent deceptive invoices to small businesses throughout the United States for unordered business directory listings. If the recipients disputed the invoices, the defendants used a variety of collection tactics, such as playing audio recordings that purportedly proved that the businesses' employees authorized the business directory listings. The businesses report, however, that the recordings sounded as if they were doctored or merely reflected that an employee had confirmed or verified the business's contact information in a previous telephone call without agreeing to new services. Many consumers paid the defendants only to avoid potentially damaging collection actions and to end the harassment.

The defendants are charged with law violations for misrepresenting that they had a preexisting business relationship with consumers, that consumers had agreed to buy directory listings, and that consumers owed them money.

For more information about these scams, visit the FTC website.