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Yellow Page Scams

Business owners have been victimized by telephone "yellow pages" scams from time to time, and find they are billed for advertising they never ordered or did not want.

Anyone can use the term "yellow pages" or feature the "walking fingers" logo. While you might identify these features with your major local telephone company, the phrase and logo are not copyright protected so any individual or business may use them in soliciting business from you. Business owners and their employees should check with their advertising representative if they are in doubt about the legitimacy of a bill.

Sometimes you may receive solicitations which look like bills. Both California law and the United States Post Office require companies issuing such solicitations to place, on the face of the solicitation, in large print:

"This is NOT a bill. This is a solicitation for the order of goods and services, or both. You are under no obligation to make any payment unless you accept this offer."

While they may seem to be complying, some companies vary the language and some use print so faint or in light colors that it makes the notice very difficult to read.

Although we investigate these matters along with the United States Postal Inspector, law enforcement actions in this area are difficult to maintain because of the following reasons:

  • The companies are often out of state and difficult to locate even if they have a California address on the invoice. They also have a tendency to disappear if governmental action is brought, only to reappear under another name;
  • Use of "walking fingers" or the phrase "Yellow Pages" or the use of ads cut out from other publications are not necessarily in violation of state or federal law;
  • There are no statutes requiring such companies to specify a minimum number of Yellow Page copies which must be printed or delivered, nor to operate a website listing which will be seen by a minimum number of people;
  • Sometimes the company claims it had first called and obtained consent. It is difficult to prove that did not happen;
  • The bills are usually not large enough to involve senior management in litigation, and companies may thus be unwilling to expend the time to testify.

The best protection against these scams is to make certain that your company has a way your payment department can check to determine you really ordered the advertisement before they pay for it.

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