What do you do when your company receives a free solicitation for a business listing and Facebook page? You might be tempted to snatch up a good deal, but there’s a good chance that deal will land you in the middle of a widespread scam. That seems to be the case for a New Jersey business owner as he faces threats of lawsuits and other action that could damage his credit.
What started as a fax solicitation in June 2013 has morphed into an apparent scam by a company with addresses in Dubai, Germany, Boston and Moscow.
The business owner tells the Newark Star-Ledger’s Bamboozled column (penned by Consumerist’s own Karin Price Mueller) that shortly after providing his contact information on the “Yellow Pages New Jersey” form for a free Facebook page to go along with his company’s directory listing, he received an invoice of $1,188 for a 12-month business directory listing.
The invoice contained a “service agent” address in Boston, a legal office in Dubai, and a postmark from Germany. A listing on the company’s website also featured a Moscow address, Bamboozled reports.
After receiving a second invoice the man looked at the original document only to see in fine print that he registered with the “business directory Yellow-Page-USA.com managed by Open Business Directory Ltd. … for a term of two years, at a price of US$99 per month, payable one year in advance…”
In July a third invoice came with a $25 reminder charge bringing his total bill to $1,213.
“All along, I treated this as a scam,” he tells the column. “They never explained where such a listing would appear — internet directory, hard copy, in which countries — or the two-year minimum term at the outlandish rate of $99 per month. However, these folks are persistent.”
Following several additional invoices, which totaled as much as $1,238, the man received notice that the company would be taking actions for the nonpayment that could result in levies against his property or other asset judgments.
The man called and sent a letter asking the company to cease and desist. Instead, he received another letter stating that not paying would be “…detrimental to your business.”
Soon after filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, the man received another email from the company offering a “gesture of goodwill” – two years of listing service for the price of one if he would immediately pay the first invoice price of $1,188.
After several months of no contact with the company the man thought his ordeal was over. But it wasn’t.
In February, he received another letter threatening to file suit if he didn’t pay $1,238 in just seven days.
That’s when Bamboozled began looking into Yellow-Page-USA.com on the man’s behalf.
Bamboozled found the company has quite a history involving complaints and accusations of being a scam.
In the past three years the BBB has received 1,544 complaints against Yellow-Page-USA.com, giving the company an “F” rating. Many of the complaints follow the same pattern.
The BBB website notes that the company uses a name and logo so close to the actual Yellow Pages Group that consumers believe they are dealing with their current advertiser.
The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs reports it received five complaints in the past two years against the company.
Since 2008, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office has received 131 complaints.
It also appears that, at least in New Jersey, the company has not actually any of the lawsuits it has threatened people with. This would seem to indicate that its intention may be to hassle people into paying with the mere threat of legal action.
When contacted by Bamboozled, the Yellow-Page-USA.com says it “undertakes it’s business in a correct and proper manner and complies with all relevant laws and regulations within the online business directory sector in which it operates.”
It declined to comment on the man’s case saying it was “of a confidential nature”.
The company said the majority of complaints filed are because customers have failed to read the contract before signing.
Consumers who received any fax solicitations should steer clear, Bamboozled suggests.
“This initially came to me as an unsolicited invitation for free listing … and with the mail/faxes coming out of Boston, with legal office in Dubai and the postage paid by the German Bundespost, I was/am very, very suspicious of the veracity of this whole thing,” the man says.
Consumerist has reported on similar “Yellow Pages Online” scam in the past. In those instances, a similar company will talk with employees asking yes or no questions and later allegedly doctor the tapes to make it appear the employee agreed to ads.