Businesses have been warned to watch out for unsolicited emails or letters which claim to offer 'free' business directory listings.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission warns that some offers appear to be nothing more than scams.
"More than 1,000 complaints and inquiries have been received this year by ACCC about these types of offers," ACCC Chairman, Graeme Samuel, said today.
Recent complaints received by the ACCC relate to unsolicited emails sent by two overseas-based businesses, World Business Guide and World Business Directory. Websites operated by these businesses include:
"In this instance, the ACCC believes it is appropriate to name the businesses involved. This is not a decision that ACCC has taken lightly," Mr Samuel said.
"Many legitimate businesses located overseas provide goods and services to Australian businesses. However, unscrupulous traders can try to take advantage of overseas locations to target businesses in other countries to perpetrate scams, and frustrate the efforts of consumer protection law enforcement bodies.
"From the ACCC’s investigations, it appears that World Business Guide and World Business Directory are using virtual office services or post office boxes across several countries including the Netherlands, Spain, United Kingdom, West Indies and Eastern Europe.
"The use of automated mail forwarding services can unfortunately make it almost impossible to locate where a business is really situated. This is of particular concern given that these businesses are using, what the ACCC believes to be blatantly unfair tactics in an attempt to trick Australian businesses into subscribing to their services."
World Business Guide and World Business Directory send emails asking the recipient to print and complete a form so that their business details can be updated. The emails state that 'Updating is free of charge'.
The ACCC warns Australian businesses that the services purportedly being offered appear to be useless and businesses who return forms will be chased with threatening correspondence for significant sums of money.
If the attached form is returned, these operators will claim to be entitled to significant sums of money," Mr Samuel said.
It appears that the scam operates in the hope that businesses will automatically process any payments without inquiry. Businesses who question an invoice after having returned the form, are told that a legally binding contact exists which must be paid. Threats of debt recovery action usually follow in the hope of extracting money from the business. The ACCC is not aware of any instances where any debt recovery proceedings have been instituted against Australian businesses.
The ACCC's website, SCAMwatch www.scamwatch.gov.au, offers a range of information and advice on scams. Above all, the ACCC strongly encourages businesses:
- to be very wary of unsolicited offers, particularly those claiming to provide a free service
- before responding to any offer, to make sure you know who you are dealing with. Do an internet search on the name of the product/company, verify any contact and company details
- to look into the legitimacy of the directory – for example, ask for details of other local businesses who have previously advertised and check with them that they received what they paid for
- to read all the terms and conditions and fine print
- to retain written records of authorisations for advertising or directory entries so that if you receive an invoice or a telephone call, you can go back to your records to check it
- to ensure that only authorised employees are responsible for payments and they should have ready access to important dates and suppliers. Update them on any scam or unsolicited service that may be targeting businesses, and
- to alert your industry association or local business advisor about any offers that you think may be untoward or misleading. They may be able to warn others in your network.
Businesses receiving such invoices, or which have paid money after receiving an invoice, can report it through the SCAMwatch website or contact the ACCC Infocentre on 1300 302 502 for the cost of a local call. Sending unsolicited commercial emails (spam) is prohibited under the Spam Act 2003. Businesses can report commercial spam to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) via their website www.acma.gov.au or call ACMA on 1300 855 180.
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