Fraulent fingers still walking

Fraudulent solicitations for online ad space that resemble the well-known Yellow Pages continue to pop up in Red Deer.

Fraudulent solicitations for online ad space that resemble the well-known Yellow Pages continue to pop up in Red Deer.

Last Friday, Bart Fraser, owner of City Screen Productions, received a faxed invoice touting the website YellowPage-Alberta.com and displaying a logo with fingers seemingly in a peace sign position — the opposite image of the Yellow Pages’ walking fingers logo.

He was surprised to be holding the document just days after learning about the scheme on an Edmonton news broadcast that featured a business owner who was charged $1,400 after signing off on the document.

“I was happy that I’d seen the news and that is was something that I was able to pick up on, that it was a fraud,” Fraser said.

“It’s misleading because what they’re doing is they’re going on the guise of Yellow Pages, so when people sign up for it they think they’re getting an ad locally when in fact they aren’t. It’s an obscure website.”

Similar invoices were circulating in the city earlier this year. At that time, Yellow Pages Group senior communications manager Perry Schwartz said the misleading material was also being sent to businesses elsewhere in Canada.

Schwartz said the problem is an ongoing one for his company, which tries to track the source of such unauthorized invoices. He noted that the Yellow Pages Group has copyright protection in Canada but not in the United States.

In the case of the invoice received by City Screen Productions, the company behind it is Yellow Publishing Ltd. of the United Kingdom. That information is noted in the fine print of the document, which also states that registration in the YellowPage-Alberta.com directory costs $119 per month — payable one year in advance — and is for a two-year term.

“I’m more worried about letting people know that this in fact is not Yellow Pages,” Fraser said.

“This is a European website that you’re going to end up paying to have your company listed on and it’s not clearly stated that way. They’ve made an attempt with their artwork to make it look like it’s Yellow Pages and if people don’t pick up on that, it’s a quick $1,400 scam for them.”

Cpl. Louis Robertson, an RCMP officer in charge of criminal intelligence who works with PhoneBusters, confirmed that this is a nation-wide campaign and that it’s being reviewed by the Competition Bureau of Canada.

“Be careful, be vigilant, read the fine print,” he urged.

“If there is something that you’re not too sure of, why don’t you stop, sit down and check with your accounting department. Ask them, ‘Have we sent money to Yellow Pages last year or this month?’”

Robertson said PhoneBusters has received hundreds of complaints in the past decade regarding fraudulent Yellow Pages solicitations.

Rayn Fraess, consumer consultant with the Better Business Bureau of Central and Northern Alberta, agreed that businesses should double-check with their accounting department to see if they’ve had previous relations with the soliciting company. He also recommended they verify with officials at the company they assume has contacted them.

“It’s a generic enough name that they can often create duplicates and people just see the words Yellow and Pages and kind of just assume at that point,” Fraess said.

He also pointed out the Yellow Page name and walking fingers symbol are only trademark-protected when appearing in the exact format used by the Yellow Pages Group.

Five years ago, a Competition Bureau investigation into a fraudulent invoice scheme involving Bell Canada’s and the Yellow Pages’ names resulted in jail time and fines totalling $915,000 for four Toronto-area residents.

Additional information about how businesses can safeguard themselves against phoney invoices and other fraud can be found on the Competition Bureau website at http://www.bureaudelaconcurrence.gc.ca/eic/site/cb-bc.nsf/eng/02600.html.

ptrotter@redeeradvocate.com

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