The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is warning small business operators to watch out for a business directory scam.
There has been a surge in reports from small businesses who have received a fax claiming to be from ‘Yellow Page Australia’ and ‘Open Business Directory Ltd’. On first glance, the fax appears to be seeking confirmation of the contact details for their business. However on closer inspection, the fax is in fact an agreement to sign up to an online business directory service charged at $99 per month for a minimum two-year period.
Businesses are tricked into thinking the fax is affiliated with Sensis’ Yellow Pages® directory by using this well-known Australian company’s name and ‘Walking Fingers’ logo. However, Sensis warns that ‘Yellow Page Australia’, ‘Online Business Directory’ and the website ‘yellow-page-australia.com’ are in no way connected with Sensis or Telstra.
A ‘Yellow Pages’ scam has previously targeted Australian businesses. In April 2011, the ACCC successfully prosecuted two overseas companies for sending thousands of these types of faxes to local businesses. The Federal Court imposed penalties totalling $2.7 million against the perpetrators. Authorities in the United States and Canada also successfully prosecuted other scammers behind this global scheme. Whilst the perpetrators from this round of faxes appear to be different, the conduct is nearly identical.
“Scammers are very sophisticated and target small businesses at busy times when they’re more vulnerable to fall victim. The perpetrators behind this ‘Yellow Pages’ scam would likely be trying to take advantage of the new financial year period to trick busy businesses into signing up to an unwanted service,” ACCC Deputy Chair Dr Michael Schaper warned.
“While reports suggest that Australian businesses are alert to the scam and haven’t been duped, this batch of faxes indicates an invoice due date right in the middle of tax time. As in the past, these scammers may soon start hassling businesses for payments, including threatening them with late payment fees. If you refuse to pay, the scammers might try to intimidate you by threatening legal action or debt collection.”
SCAMwatch urges small business operators to be alert and follow these three key rules:
- If you receive a ‘Yellow Pages’ fax or email, bin it. Sensis will never approach you this way.
- If you get a threatening phone call, email or fax demanding payment - ignore it and report it.
- Spread the word. Ensure employees are aware of this scam and know how to protect your business.
“Don’t let scammers slip under your radar during tax time. Stop and think twice before you respond to any unexpected offers, tax invoices or demands for payment,” Dr Schaper said.
If you think you have come across a scammer, you can report it to the ACCC via SCAMwatch or by calling 1300 795 995.
For more information on the ACCC’s successful 2011 court action against this type of scam, see http://www.accc.gov.au/media-release/27-million-penalty-for-fake-yellow-pages-directory-scam.