NewsChannel 11 Investigates Company Charging Businesses Hundreds - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

5/19/08

NewsChannel 11 Investigates Company Charging Businesses Hundreds

The Yellow Pages Publication Association estimates that con artists collect more than half a billion dollars each year from Yellow Pages advertisers with bogus invoices.  Those invoices may have shown up in Lubbock and businesses here want to know, is this real?

Advertising agent Mack Owen got an invoice weeks ago for more than $1,700.  "What this invoice is for is three years of past due balances saying we didn't pay it," said Owen.

Owen says he never agreed to a national business book with Allied Telephone Directories.  It bears the "walking fingers" logo and the Yellow Pages name.  Owen says no telling how many payments they've made to this company.  He says it appears to be very deceptive. 

"Do you think people pay this because they think they're going to be in the local yellow pages?" asked NewsChannel 11's Cecelia Jones.

"Yes, absolutely. They think this is their AT&T or their Feist yellow book," Owen replied.

Allied Telephone Directories, who have now switched their name to U.S. Yellow, has a website where you can look up business telephone numbers on their Internet directory.  That's where NewsChannel 11 noticed Gafford Pest Control. We headed over there to ask owner Tim Gafford if he'd ever seen an invoice like this. 

"So, you were one of those people who paid?" Cecelia asked.

"Apparently so. I didn't realize we had done that at the time," Gafford replied.

Gafford immediately got on the phone and called the company.  "I'm calling concerning account number 3669-1479," he said on the phone.  He asked for a refund and got them to agree to send him one without a struggle. 

"Two to three business weeks? I'm gonna look into that second one. If it was paid, and you all got it, I'm gonna expect a refund on that too," Gafford said to customer service.

Gafford wasn't sure how much he paid, but we know it was at least $297. It is an amount U.S. Yellow charges twice a year.  On the back of the invoice was Gafford's signature on a copy of an order form, but Gafford wonders why he would agree to pay for a national book that doesn't benefit him.

"It has no value to me whatsoever. It's something we never signed up for. I don't know where it came from," he said.

Here's what businesses need to know, the Federal Trade Commission has put warnings out there that unscrupulous promoters are using the "walking fingers" logo and Yellow Pages name. According to the FTC, both are not protected by the federal copyright or trademark registration. That means anyone can use it and that's why businesses believe, when they get something like this, it's from a local phone book.

We called U.S. Yellow and asked where their national books are distributed. Their attorney told us to the businesses who pay.  We asked Gafford if he'd ever seen the book, "I didn't get a book," he said.    Owen added, "You just never see that book."  

U.S. Yellow's attorney also told us Better Business Bureaus, libraries and Chambers of Commerce receive a book. NewsChannel 11 called all three places in Lubbock and can't find a national business book from Allied, Global, or U.S. Yellow, the different names this business is affiliated with.  Their attorney, however, claims Allied U.S. Yellow is legitimate and has been doing business for more than five years.

We looked up information on Allied Telephone Directories with the BBB in New Jersey and Jacksonville, Florida. We found 173 complaints in the last 36 months.  The complaints dealt with advertising and billing issues to name a few.

They have all been resolved, and the business has a satisfactory record.  But here's some advice from the Yellow Pages Association:

  • Make sure you review the invoice before sending a bill.
  • Contact your local yellow pages sale representative to confirm if this bill came from them.
  • If you are a business that may have paid this invoice, you can contact the company at 1-866-819-6476. The attorney told me they are more than willing to give you a refund.

Here's the alert sent out by the FTC, click here.

The Better Business Bureau
For more information on consumer guidance, business guidance, dispute resolution, and consumer news and alerts; click here to goto the Better Business Bureau's web site.

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