Businesses across the country are receiving what appear to be invoices for ad space in the familiar, locally distributed, Yellow Pages directories. But, in fact, some of these "invoices" are solicitations for listings in alternative business directories that differ from the well-known Yellow Pages. These alternative directories often are not widely distributed, or may not be published at all. Businesses are being deceived into paying for what they erroneously believe to be their usual Yellow Pages ad.
What Causes the Confusion?
The familiar "walking fingers" logo and the name "Yellow Pages" are not protected by any federal trademark registration or copyright. Therefore, you may be led to believe that anyone who uses the logo and the name is affiliated with the publisher that distributes the telephone books and Yellow Pages directories to all households and businesses in a particular geographic area. There is no connection between publishers of alternative directories and those of the well- known Yellow Pages.
Alternative directories differ significantly from the traditional Yellow Pages directories primarily because of distribution. Alternative business directories generally are not available or distributed to the public. Therefore, they provide little, if any, benefit to businesses who pay to advertise in them.
Characteristics of a Phony Yellow Pages Invoice
The solicitation from an alternative business directory may have the appearance of an invoice. It may bear the "walking fingers" logo and feature the name "Yellow Pages." It also may falsely suggest that the publisher is affiliated with your local telephone company or with another bona fide Yellow Pages publisher you recognize. Further, the solicitation may lead you to believe that your business already has been listed in the telephone directory and you are now being billed when, in fact, you are only being solicited for placing an ad.
Typical language used on the ad solicitations, such as "present listing information;" "prompt payment is necessary to guarantee ad placement in the directory;" "renewal payment stub;" and "directory listing renewal invoice" also may appear on Yellow Pages invoices. This adds to the confusion.
How To Protect Yourself
Examine the piece of mail you have received and determine whether it is a solicitation or an invoice. If it is a solicitation, you should see a disclaimer required by the U.S. Postal Service. It states, THIS IS NOT A BILL. THIS IS A SOLICITATION. YOU ARE UNDER NO OBLIGATION TO PAY THE AMOUNT STATED ABOVE UNLESS YOU ACCEPT THIS OFFER. But whether you see this solicitation disclaimer or not, be wary.
Consider taking the following additional precautions:
* Investigate the company and its product before responding.
* Ask for a copy of a previous directory edition.
* Ask the publisher for written information about its directories. Ask for distribution figures, the method of distribution, and the directory's life span.
* Ask where the directories are distributed and whether they go to all local telephone customers.
* Ask if directories are available free. If there is a fee, ask for the cost.
* Call your local Yellow Pages publisher to learn if it is associated with the company soliciting your business. If more than one Yellow Pages publisher distributes directories in your area, call the publishers whose books you are considering for your ad; ask if they are associated with the company that sent you the solicitation.
* Check with consumer protection officials in your state and in the state where the company is located to learn if they have received any complaints about the publisher. Keep in mind, however, that suspect companies often leave before complaints are registered or before local authorities have a chance to act. Just because your local consumer protection agency has no complaints on file against a company, that does not mean the business is legitimate.
What To Do if You Are a Victim
If you believe you have been the victim of this misrepresentation scheme, contact your Postmaster or local Postal Inspector. Look in your telephone directory under "U.S. Government, Postal Service U.S." for local listings. If there is no listing, write: Chief Postal Inspector, United States Postal Service, Washington, D.C. 20260-2100, or call (202) 268-4267.
You also may direct questions about Yellow Pages directory publishers to the Yellow Pages Publishers Association (YPPA), a private trade association representing over 140 Yellow Pages publishers throughout the United States. Write: Yellow Pages Publishers Association, 340 E. Big Beaver Road, 5th Floor, Troy, MI 48083, or call (313) 680-8880.
For More Information
To learn how to protect yourself from other fraudulent sales practices that may affect your business, send for the free brochure, Buying by Phone. Write: Public Reference, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, D.C. 20580. You also may write to this address for a free copy of Best Sellers, which lists all the FTC's consumer and business publications.
Facts for Business from the Federal Trade Commission in cooperation with the Yellow Pages Publishers Association and the United States Postal Inspection Service
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