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Yellow Pages Scam Targets Small Businesses

September 19, 2014 to October 19, 2014


Prepared by Carolyn Due at Saul Ewing LLP

At a time when Yelp reviews, Twitter and Facebook have become popular ways for restaurants to advertise their businesses, the relevance of directory listings has diminished.  It may then come as a surprise to receive an invoice for hundreds or thousands of dollars for what looks like an online Yellow Pages listing.  Beware: it may be a “yellow pages” or directory scam. 

Over the years, Attorneys General in various states and the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) have filed lawsuits against scammers who use the Yellow Pages name or the “walking fingers” logo to trick small businesses into paying hundreds of dollars for no benefit.  However, the lawsuits have not deterred all the scammers.  On July 14, 2014, the FTC reported on its continued efforts to work with state and Canadian agencies to stop three alleged “yellow pages” scammers, which resulted in multi-million dollar judgments against the scammers.

Most recently, on August 7, 2014, the FTC filed suit against Your Yellow Book for faxing documents resembling invoices with the “walking fingers” image to consumers with whom it had no preexisting relationship.  The faxes asked the businesses to verify or update their listing information.  Many businesses paid the invoices, believing that there was no other option. 

How It Works

“Yellow pages” or directory scams typically involve a call to a business, asking the employee who answers to confirm business information for a directory listing.  The caller will ask questions, typically questions that elicit a “yes” or “no” response, while recording the employee’s responses.  The business then receives an invoice for several hundreds or thousands of dollars for a listing in a directory that was purportedly ordered by the business.  If the business contests the invoice or inquires about it, the scammer will say that they have a recording of an employee agreeing to pay for the listing.  The recording, however, has been spliced together to make it appear as though an employee has either ordered or said “yes” to the listing and the fee. 

In another version of the scam, the scammer will send an unsolicited fax that purports to verify listing information.  The fax leads recipients to believe that they are updating their listing in a local Yellow Pages directory by featuring a “Yellow Pages” web address and using the “walking fingers” logo.  The fax asks the recipient to simply correct their information by a certain deadline, which leads the recipient to believe that the company is merely updating information for an existing Yellow Pages listing.  However, at the bottom of the fax, in blurry fine print, there is a statement that contains confusing language indicating that, by returning the fax, the company is agreeing to be charged for a one or two-year listing in an online directory.  Charges for this “service” can be over $2,000.

If a business refuses to pay the invoice or disputes it, the scammer sends a letter indicating that payment is late and charging late fees.  If the business contacts the scammer, a discount may be offered, however, if payment is still not forthcoming, the scammer will threaten to bring legal action or submit the invoice to a collection agency.  Many businesses, fearing legal action, will then pay the invoices or the “reduced” fee.  Some businesses do so by giving their credit card number.  In October 2012, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois held that Yellow Page Marketing B.V., Yellow Publishing Ltd., and Yellow Data Services Ltd. violated Section 5(a) of the FTC Act and ordered them to pay their “net sales” of more than $10 million to the FTC. 

What To Do

Despite the FTC’s successes in litigation, Yellow Pages scams continue to be perpetuated through different companies in various forms.  Therefore, it is critical that businesses be aware of the scams and take appropriate steps to avoid becoming victims.  For example, businesses should train their staff to either hang up on cold calls about business directory services or to direct them to someone who has been trained regarding the scam.  It is important that staff generally not engage in conversation with suspicious callers, not to give “yes” or “no” answers, not return a fax requesting the confirmation of information, or to sign documents or provide credit card or payment information at the request of other businesses.  Only an owner or trusted employees with authority to enter into binding contracts should sign contracts, pay invoices, or speak to companies requesting payment information.  Owners or trusted employees should also carefully review all documents that require a signature or payment, including special attention to fine print. 

If you believe you have been a victim of a scam, you should file a complaint with your state’s Attorney General’s office, as well as with the Federal Trade Commission.  To report fraud to the FTC, visit:  If you believe you or an employee has given sensitive financial information, such as credit card information, to a scammer, you should cancel the card and speak with your credit card company about the potential fraud.


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