OPINION

Business directory — just another scam?

Staff Writer
The Destin Log
William L. Martin III

Has your business been contacted by someone to “confirm your contact information for a directory?” If so, you may be the target of just another scam. Soon, you may be receiving invoices for listing your business in an online business directory. This is just the latest in a series of scams the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is investigating in its never ending battle to protect consumers and businesses.

The FTC is pursuing charges against three Canadian telemarketing agencies that did business under names like “Your Yellow Pages” and “Online YellowPagesToday.” According to the FTC, following just such an innocuous call, these telemarketers invoiced businesses for hundreds of dollars for a listing in an online director, even though the business owner never asked for or agreed to the listing.

When the business owners refuse to pay, the telemarketers use a recording of the initial call, including edited or altered versions, as “proof” that the business (or the employee that answered the phone) had approved the listing and agreed to pay for it. If the business still refused to pay, the business received threatening phone calls claiming that a failure to pay could result in interest charges and attorney fees. The harassment, in some cases, escalated and the scammers pretended to be debt collection agencies and, in some cases, eventually convinced the businesses to pay, just to get a promise that the fake debt collector would not call again.

How do you protect your business from these scams? The FTC recommends taking the following steps:

• Train your staff. Educate your employees about how these scams work.

• Inspect your invoices. Depending on the size and nature of your business, consider implementing a purchase order system to make sure you’re paying only legitimate expenses. At a minimum, designate a small group of employees with authority to approve purchases and pay the bills.

• Verify to clarify. Check a company out for free at bbb.org, and read the Better Business Bureau’s report on them. Also try doing an online search using the company name and words like “complaint” or “scam.”

• File a complaint. If you’re getting bogus bills, file a complaint with the FTC.

Bill Martin is a former United States Air Force pilot and senior attorney for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. He is currently a partner in the law firm of Keefe, Anchors & Gordon in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.