A federal court has ordered a European-based operation to pay more than $10.2 million for tricking small businesses and nonprofit organizations into paying for unwanted listings in online business directories.
The default judgment, a result of a Federal Trade Commission complaint, permanently bans the defendants from marketing Internet directories and listings in the future, and prohibits them from collecting payments from their previous customers, disclosing or otherwise benefitting from customers’ personal information and failing to dispose of this information properly.
In July 2011, the FTC filed its complaint against Jan Marks; Yellow Page Marketing; Yellow Publishing Ltd.; and Yellow Data Services Ltd. They allegedly ran the scheme from Palma de Mallorca, Spain, using English and Dutch corporations, falsely represented that businesses and nonprofits had a preexisting business relationship with them, and that they were affiliated with a local yellow pages directory. A federal judge temporarily halted the operation and froze the defendants’ assets, pending resolution of the case.
The FTC received several hundred complaints from consumers who received faxes that appeared to be from their local yellow pages directories, confirming listings the consumers already had.
Those who returned the faxed forms were billed by Yellow Page Marketing and told to send more than $1,000 to a Park Avenue address in New York City. Consumers who refused to pay were subjected to threatening and intimidating collection tactics.
Under the July 2011 temporary restraining order, the FTC intercepted and opened mail that consumers sent to that address, which included nearly 800 checks totaling more than $460,000. The FTC has determined that consumers’ information would be best protected by destroying the checks.
In conjunction with this announcement, the FTC is mailing letters to affected consumers, advising them of these facts and providing an FTC Business Alert, "When Yellow Pages Invoices Are Bogus." The FTC further advises consumers that any attempts to collect on defendants’ invoices are in violation of the court order.
The order was entered by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. Along with the FTC’s case, the Canadian Competition Bureau secured a judgment gainst this operation in March 2012.