Yellow Pages Scams Alive and Well

About a decade ago, I wrote a lengthy article for Link magazine (anyone remember Link magazine?) about the efforts of the U.S. Postal Service and others to crack down on bogus Yellow Pages scams, which exploit the inattention of busy small-business people to sell them advertising in worthless directories and then aggressively collect the debts. These schemes appear to be alive and well.

I came across an article in a Long Beach, California, newspaper that details a classic bogus YP scam by Yellow Pages Inc. of Anaheim, California. The company sends SMEs a check for US$3, the endorsement of which is a contract to purchase advertising with a price tag of US$180.00. Anyone who doesn’t pay immediately is contacted by an aggressive bill collector, according to the newspaper article.

These schemes are brilliant in their simplicity and in their exploitation of the generic nature of the Yellow Pages brand. It also shines a light on this industry’s inability to build strong individual brand identities, which one would think would make these scams less effective.

We do not wish Yellow Pages Inc. well. It is hard, however, not to marvel at how enduring and successful this scam has been, despite a lot of bad publicity, aggressive law enforcement efforts and the efforts of industry organizations and individual publishers to raise public awareness.

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