"This mailing probably is landing all over Iowa now," Miller said. "Don't confuse it for your regular telephone bill."
DES MOINES. Attorney General Tom Miller warned Iowans Friday that a deceptive mailing is landing around Iowa that businesses and consumers might mistake to be their regular Qwest telephone bill.
"This mailing has every appearance of being designed to deceive unsuspecting recipients into making a payment they assume is for their regular Qwest phone service," Miller said. "But payments really go to an outfit operating out of Solon, Ohio, as 'Yellow Pages Plus.' The mailing is actually a solicitation for their so-called directory service, but it mimics a Qwest bill so deliberately that it easily could go unrecognized by ordinary consumers," he said.
At a news conference in Des Moines, Miller compared a Qwest invoice with a "Yellow Pages Plus" solicitation, noting very close similarities in format, type font, layout, wording, and Qwest's familiar blue and white colors. Miller's office sent a letter Friday to West Publishing Business Services warning the suburban Cleveland company that legal action may be taken if the company does not cease mailing into Iowa. The letter noted that the words 'this is not an invoice' do appear in the company's Yellow Pages Plus mailing, but asserted that "the average recipient would not interpret this [mailing] as a solicitation." Many might mistake it as being a Qwest bill.
Miller and officials from Qwest who joined him at the news conference urged citizens to be cautious and alert for the questionable solicitations. Qwest's President for Iowa, Max Phillips, and Qwest's Manager for Policy and Law, Michael Sadler, appeared with Miller.
West Publishing Business Service's "Yellow Pages Plus" solicitation appears to be aimed especially at medium and small-sized businesses, but ordinary consumers might also receive the solicitation, Miller said. The State Consumer Protection Division has received about a dozen copies of the mailing or inquiries about it in the last couple days. "We think they probably are landing all over Iowa now and will be in the days ahead," he said.
All the "Yellow Pages Plus"solicitations received so far by the Attorney General list a total amount for payment of $241.46.
One small-business owner submitted a copy of the mailing and told the Consumer Protection Division she was very close to paying what she assumed was her Qwest bill, but then noticed the different address at the last minute.
Miller said phony invoice schemes and fraudulent "Yellow Page" solicitations have been around for decades. "They usually prey on businesses and try to trick them into thinking a bill is to renew an ad in a yellow-page directory, often by using the famous Walking Fingers logo," he said. "This one is a little different. Yes, it actually is a solicitation for a so-called directory, but this one could very easily mislead people into assuming it's their ordinary bill for telephone service."
Miller said the Yellow Pages Integrated Media Association has estimated that questionable companies collect $500 million a year from businesses nationwide through fraudulent billing scams.
He said businesses or consumers who make the payment to West Publishing Business Services likely are listed in an online "directory" that may not be known or be of any use to potential customers, and thus be of no use to the businesses. "It may well be that they buy large database lists, put everyone on the list in their so-called directory - and solicit the same people with the deceptive mailing," Miller said. The "directory" may not even be categorized, and it appears to list box-number mail addresses, which would be of little use even if a consumer did want to visit a business listed in the directory.
Miller urged any consumers that inadvertently made a payment to West Publishing Business Services or "Yellow Pages Plus" to complain to his office or the company, or both. The Consumer Protection Division letter to the company today said the State expects the company to make refunds. (West Publishing Business Services is not related to West Publishing, a legal publication company part of the Thomson group.)
Iowans may contact the Consumer Protection Division at 515-281-5926. They also can go to the web site at www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.org (click on "protecting consumers.")
Miller said his office also was spreading the alert through an "Office Scam Alert" network of businesses and associations who in turn can alert their members.
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