How to Spot Fake Internet Directory and Domain Renewal Bills

EAG, April 21, 2014

internet directories shown as shadowns of their former great selvesEvery year unsuspecting small businesses waste millions of dollars paying bogus Internet Directory, Yellow Pages publisher and Domain Registration renewal invoices. And it’s no wonder. You know you have a directory listing and a domain name. You know you’ll have an invoice coming.

These deceptive bills have the trusted, well known logo on them, look like the real deal, and business owners are usually running a mile a minute anyway.

How do scam artists get away with using the Yellow Pages name and logo (you know the “walking fingers” one)? Turns out that neither one is protected by federal copyright or trademark registration. Heck, you could slap a Yellow Pages logo on your website’s home page and it’s perfectly legal. Crazy, right? If the scammer happens to time it right, the bogus bills get paid in lieu of the real invoices. And if they get paid once, there’s a good chance they’ll get paid for several years after that.

Domain registrars are a dime a dozen. And they use words like “expired” and “canceled”, which really strike fear into the hearts of small businesses that rely on their websites for business. Allowing a domain name to expire can cause some serious issues like another company grabbing it, email problems, no company website and last, but not least, lost revenue.

Since you can’t trust the authenticity of a name or logo, how does one determine whether or not an invoice is a sales pitch disguised as an invoice?

Examine the “bill” closely. Does it have the actual name of a company you’ve contracted with?
If not, it is probably bogus.

Read the fine print and all disclaimers.
The U.S. Postal Service requires solicitations that look like invoices, bills, or account statements to carry ONE of the following notices:

“THIS IS NOT A BILL. THIS IS A SOLICITATION. YOU ARE UNDER NO OBLIGATION TO PAY THE AMOUNT STATED ABOVE UNLESS YOU ACCEPT THIS OFFER. ”

OR

“THIS IS A SOLICITATION FOR AN ORDER OF GOODS OR SERVICES, OR BOTH, AND NOT A BILL, INVOICE OR STATEMENT OF ACCOUNT DUE. YOU ARE UNDER NO OBLIGATION TO MAKE ANY PAYMENTS ON ACCOUNT OF THIS OFFER UNLESS YOU ACCEPT THIS OFFER.”

While this disclosure is supposed to be in boldface capital letters that are at least as large as the largest type on the solicitation, it could still be easily overlooked or misunderstood. Here’s an example of one we received ourselves just last month. Click the image below to zoom in and note tell-tale signs of a fake:

a fake internet directory invoice from a fraudulent vendor

Well, crud. I just received a suspicious invoice. What should I do?
Don’t pay anything just yet and send it to your EAG account manager to verify its validity.

Well, crud. I think I paid a fake bill. Now what?
By paying these “bills” your business agrees to the terms and conditions of advertising with a bogus online publisher or domain registrar. The advertising the business has purchased may or may not be delivered or even real. Even if it does appear somewhere, it’s probably a no-name, no-traffic source. As for domain renewals, the URL you purchased may not be legitimately yours, and you’ll need to purchase or renew through a legitimate source.

There isn’t a lawyer among the EAG team, so we’re by no means in any position to provide legal advice (though we do handle the advertising for some legal offices). That being said, if you paid a fake directory or domain registration bill, your money is probably gone. Still, you should report the fake invoice to consumer protection agencies, but legal action would most likely be for naught. Most business owners chalk it up as a lesson learned—albeit an expensive one.

It is imperative that employees responsible for paying bills or placing orders are educated about the existence of these solicitations disguised as invoices. If you receive what you believe to be a bogus advertising or domain renewal bill of any type, don’t pay it until you know it’s a legit invoice, not a solicitation!

Scams will always be an unfortunate part of the online world. Having an advertising agency or marketing firm help navigate through what’s legitimate versus fraudulent, or what’s potentially profitable versus what’s a waste of time and resources, is a solution that more and more business owners are turning to.  Still looking for your perfect agency partner? Give us a call or use our contact form to start a conversation.

 

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