FTC Business Alert: When Yellow Page Invoices are Bogus

Familiar "walking fingers" logo and the name "Yellow Pages" could be a camouflaged invitation to lose money.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Yellow Pages Publishers Association (YPPA) caution businesses that unscrupulous promoters are soliciting advertising in alternative or nonexistent business directories. Although these directories appear to be legitimate Yellow Pages publications, they are not distributed to the public and, as a result, offer no benefits to businesses that pay to advertise in them. In the worst cases, these so-called directories are not published at all.

The solicitation to buy ad space may look like an invoice and bear the "walking fingers" logo and the Yellow Pages name. Neither the name nor the logo is protected by federal copyright or trademark registration. That's how fraudulent promoters can lead businesses to believe they are affiliated with local telephone directories distributed in a particular area.

The U.S. Postal Service requires solicitations that appear to be invoices, bills or account statements to carry the following notice: 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.

Of course, not all solicitations you receive in the mail look like bills, invoices or account statements. Be skeptical anyway. Some solicitations could violate the law if they misrepresent information.

Before you buy advertising space through a mail solicitation or pay an "invoice," take the following steps:

  • Check out the company and its publication. Call your local Yellow Pages publisher to see if it is affiliated with the soliciting company.
  • Ask for a copy of a previous directory edition.
  • Ask the publisher for written information about where the directory is distributed, the way it is distributed (does every local telephone customer receive it?), how often it is published, and distribution or circulation figures.
  • Check with your local and state consumer protection agencies to determine if any complaints have been filed about the publisher. This isn't a guarantee, but it is prudent.

If you think you've been scammed by a promoter pitching bogus Yellow Pages or business directories, contact your local Postmaster or Postal Inspector. Their numbers are available in the blue pages of your telephone directory. Or, write: Chief Postal Inspector, United States Postal Service, Washington, D.C. 20260-2100. You also can call the Mail Fraud Complaint Center at 1-800-372-8347. You can reach them online at www.usps.gov/feedback.

You can file a complaint with the FTC by contacting the Consumer Response Center by phone: 202-FTC-HELP (382-4357); TDD: 202-326-2502; by mail: Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, DC 20580; or through the Internet, using the online complaint form. Although the Commission cannot resolve individual problems for consumers, it can act against a company if it sees a pattern of possible law violations.

The FTC publishes free brochures on many consumer issues. For a complete list of publications, write for Best Sellers, Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, D.C. 20580; or call (202) FTC-HELP (382-4357), TDD (202) 326-2502.

In addition, you may direct questions about Yellow Pages publishers to: Yellow Pages Publishers Association, 3773 Cherry Creek North Drive, Suite 920, Denver, Colorado 80209; 303-333-9772.