Every business owner considers whether an advertisement in the Yellow Pages is needed and will be worth the cost. But while advertising is essential, no business wants to be billed for an ad it didnt need or authorize.
Just ask Dee, of Phoenix, Arizona. Her Hallmark store received a call from a sales representative of The Official Yellow Pages, owned by Thompson Hill Publishing, Inc.
Our assistant manager was emphatic that she was not authorized to make advertising decisions, says Dee. Two months later we received a call from the Thompson Hill Publishing collection agency telling us that we owed $487.95 for an ad.
Dee continued, We asked to see a contract and they advised us that they can legally charge us without a contract if the amount is less than $500.00. They insisted we pay the bill or they would use it to hurt our credit rating.
According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), Thompson Hill Publishing has a pattern of complaints from consumers who report misleading sales calls.
For instance, the Buffalo, New York, BBB processed over 400 complaints against Thompson Hill Publishing in just a 12-month period. The majority of the complaints relate to sales tactics used by the company.
Dee joins a long list of business owners who have reported Yellow Page problems. I had my own issue when a salesman from Yellow Book USA called about advertising for my personal consumer advocacy site,. I told him that I did not want to place an ad.
So imagine my surprise when a display ad appeared in their book.
This was followed by monthly bills and finally a call from Tiffany, a collections coordinator for Yellow Book USA.
Tiffany calmly explained that they had a contract with my signature, and now there were late fees because I hadnt made a payment. I kept Tiffany on the phone while she e-mailed me a copy of the contract.
I asked her to open the attachment so that she could see what I was seeing. It was obvious that there was no signature. Additionally, although the signature line was blank, someone else had filled in the remaining portion of the contract.
How does an unsigned, unauthorized contract lead to a $500 advertising bill?
We dont know how it happened, said Maria Mitchell, Assistant Vice President of Yellow Book USA. It certainly isnt the norm, but with over 8,000 employees, mistakes do happen. Our goal is to help business owners, not harm them.
In my case, Yellow Book USA quickly responded to my complaint, apologized, and wiped out all the charges.
Dont cash that check
Yellow Page companies are notorious for using activation check schemes. Typically the business receives a small check that, when deposited, triggers a monthly payment for advertising.
The "contract" is in the fine print on the back of the check. Endorsing and cashing the check validates the supposed contract.
In many cases, the advertising is described as an Internet ad and the business owner has no idea where they can even see it.
Numerous states including Kentucky, Missouri and Oregon have taken action against such companies.
Travis Ford, Consumer Education Coordinator of the Office of Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon, told ConsumerAffairs.com: "We are very interested in any complaints businesses may have about directory advertising, their billing practices or their collections tactics. Any suspicious behavior should be reported to your state's attorney general."
Cheri of Santa Cruz, California, received what she thought was a notice from her local AT&T; Yellow Pages.
The mailer asked if I wanted to renew my ad, so I signed and returned it. Shortly after that, I received the legitimate renewal notice from AT&T; and realized my mistake, Cheri said.
She now has a bill for $298.00 for an ad somewhere on the Internet.
Rogue companies and fly-by-night directories often use mailers that appear to be an invoice or renewal notice from your local Yellow Pages. However, even if the mailer includes a dollar amount there is a huge difference between an invoice and a solicitation, especially when it involves the U.S. Postal Service.
According to U.S. Postal Department regulations, any solicitation must include the following:
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, even if the mailer says, THIS IS NOT A BILL, if you sign and return it, you can be billed later.
Whose fingers are doing the walking?
Business owners often fall victim because they associate their local Yellow Pages with the walking fingers logo.
I paid $304.50 to what I thought was the local yellow pages, complained Hal of South Beach, Florida. The walking fingers emblem with the Yellow Pages name was the same as what is on our local phone book.
What Hal and many others didn't know is that the walking fingers logo is in the public domain and can freely be used by anyone in the U.S.
As for the phrase, Yellow Pages, that is a generic term that can be used by your local phone company, a website, or a scammer sitting in an apartment.