The Gebesse Blog

Thoughts from the world of technology and business

Resurrected scammers

In August 2010 I published the following story on my weekly sceptical magazine, The Millenium Project.

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Another week, another scam (7/8/2010)
I received a fax addressed to my business this week offering to arrange my Yellow Pages listing and, as a bonus, give me a free Google listing. Free submission to Google – how could I resist that? Easily, as it turns out. Apart from the fact that submission to Google is free anyway (and I have an automated process which reminds Google each month about all sites I have anything to do with), I noticed a couple of very large red flags waving.

The first was the logo and organisation name at the top of the fax:

0807yellowscam2

A telephone directory usually has more than one page, so I was intrigued by the name “Yellow Page”. Surely it should be “Yellow Pages”. And why was the logo giving me a two-finger salute, something which is offensive in many cultures? Perhaps I should go and look at what appears on the Yellow Pages web site. Hmmm. It looks a bit different, doesn’t it?

Telephone directories are usually produced by your local telephone company, and in the case of Australia they come from a company named Sensis, which is a subsidiary of the biggest telecommunications company, Telstra. (Telstra actually owns the trademarks.) The third red flag was that the fax had come from someone in Manchester, UK. Now while Manchester might be famous for its soccer team, I don’t think that Sensis or Telstra have moved their offices to that wonderful smoky paradise.

What amazes me is that anyone can fall for such a transparent scam, but there must be a significant number. Unlike email spam, sending faxes isn’t free so whoever thought this one up must have thought that an investment of real money was worth it. The fine print includes agreeing to payments totalling $3096.00 so even a 0.1% response rate would be highly profitable. And you can’t get out of the contract!

I think I have found the reason for the logo with two fingers pointing upwards. It’s not to get around trademark law, it’s to show contempt for anyone who deals with the crooks. They just give you the sign before they steal your money. Oh, and how does $129 per month compare to the cost of having a listing in the real Yellow Pages? It doesn’t actually, because there is no cost to be in the local book other than the cost of line rental and you sort of have to have that anyway to have a telephone number. Or put another way, free beats $129 per month every time.

If the scamsters want to take me on for displaying their logo and calling them names they should be aware that the owners of the real name and trademarks have deep pockets and very vicious lawyers. And they have been told about the scam.

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In April 2011, the Australian Competition and Consumer commission issued this media release:

$2.7 million penalty for fake “Yellow Pages” directory scam

The Federal Court in Melbourne has imposed penalties totalling $2.7 million against two overseas companies, Yellow Page Marketing BV (YPM) and Yellow Publishing Limited (YPL), for sending thousands of Australian businesses misleading faxes and invoices in an attempt to obtain subscriptions to their online business directories.

The ACCC alleged that between May 2010 and November 2010, YPM and YPL misled thousands of businesses into thinking they were dealing with Sensis Pty Ltd Yellow Pages®, a business well known around Australia. The YPM and YPL companies sent faxes and invoices that contained the words ‘Yellow Page’ and a ‘Walking Fingers’ logo.

“This is a significant outcome and represents the highest penalty to be handed down since civil pecuniary penalties were introduced as part of the Australian Consumer Law,” Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Graeme Samuel said.

“These proceedings are a warning to companies both here and overseas that the ACCC will not tolerate this type of conduct and will seek substantial penalties,” Mr Samuel said.

In her reasons for judgment, Justice Gordon noted that the traders involved in this directory scam had hectored businesses, demanding payment of invoices and threatening the imposition of late fees.

It is important that businesses affected by this scam understand that the court’s orders (described below) mean that they can now ignore any demand for payment and stop making payments to these companies.

While making orders as to refunds the court did note the real possibility that the parties may not comply. This is because the case reveals this directory to be a scam run by overseas entities, and it is therefore unlikely that any real assets can be tracked down.

The court declared that YPM and YPL had contravened sections 52 and 53 of the Trade Practices Act 1974* as neither of the companies are in any way affiliated with Sensis Pty Ltd Yellow Pages®.

The court’s final orders also included:

  • injunctions restraining YPM and YPL from registering domain names including the words “yellow page/s” in combination with “.au” or the name of a city, state or other location in Australia
  • all Australian online directory contracts with YPM and YPL were declared void, with no further amounts payable, unless specifically requested by a business to remain in force
  • cheques subpoenaed from the Commissioner of Police of Western Australia to be delivered to the ACCC. The ACCC will return those cheques to the relevant businesses, and
  • YPM and YPL to pay the ACCC’s costs.

On 1 January 2011 as part of Australian Consumer Law amendments the Trade Practices Act 1974 was renamed the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.

Release # NR 066/11
Issued: 14th April 2011

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Today I received another tempting offer, but this time I get a free page on Facebook. The ACCC and Telstra have been advised of the resurgence of this scam.

 

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