PhotoThe Federal Trade Commission announced today that it will be mailing out 3,133 checks with a combined worth of over $87,000. These checks will go to consumers who were defrauded by Your Yellow Book, a phone-directory publisher which, according to the FTC, “allegedly bilked money from small businesses, doctors’ offices, retirement homes, religious schools, and charitable organizations, by charging them for unwanted listings in an online 'yellow pages' directory.”

Such yellow-pages scammers have been operating for years. As early as 2007, ConsumerAffairs heard complaints from small business owners who received bills – or even harassment from collection agencies – for yellow pages listings they never consented to buy.

At the time, we warned you that such companies are notorious for using “activation check” schemes to ensnare people: you receive a check that, when deposited, triggers an automatic monthly payment for “advertising” costs. (In some cases, the advertising was described as being a series of Internet ads, which the business owner cannot even see.)

Activation-check scams are still around, and not just for phone-directory listings either. However, according to the FTC, Your Yellow Book operated primarily by faxing fake invoices to consumers who had no previously existing relationship with Your Yellow Book, asking the consumer to “update” or “verify” their current directory-listing information, and send payment of up to $487.

When the FTC first filed suit against Your Yellow Book last August, it said that the scam's victims included religious schools, retirement homes, doctors' offices, and various small businesses.

Beware of refund scams

The FTC has designated Gilardi & Co. LLC to be the “refund administrator” for check-distribution purposes. Customers who receive such a check should cash it within 60 days, and call Gilardi & Co. at 1-888-339-0960 with any questions.

Bear in mind that, as the FTC itself reiterated today: “The FTC never requires consumers to pay money or to provide information before refund checks can be cashed.” If you receive an email, text message, phone call or any other communication allegedly from the FTC or Gilardi requesting that you hand over money or information in order to collect your refund check, delete that message or hang up on the caller, because it's just another piece of scam bait.

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