A bogus online Yellow Pages operation based in Montreal has been temporarily shut down by court order after allegedly duping small businesses and churches in the U.S. out of some $14 million for unwanted listings in online business directories, according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
The FTC said Tuesday it was working to permanently stop the scheme -- which has generated more than 13,000 complaints -- and force the defendants to return victims' money.
According to charges filed by the FTC, the operation typically made phone calls to businesses pretending to verify contact information for existing directory listings.
The operation then sent bills averaging $500, often with a "walking fingers" logo, which many businesses paid after mistaking them for legitimate bills.
Some companies paid the bills after the operators used partially recorded phone conversations of people verifying their contact information to convince the businesses that they had a binding oral contract, the FTC said.
Other companies paid the invoices after receiving collection calls and threats of legal action.
The operation, which used corporate shells and mail drops in the U.S. to hide its actual location, consisted of 15 companies operating under such names as Modern Technology, Online Local Yellow Pages and Public Yellow Pages, the FTC said.
For more information visit www.ftc.gov.
Patricia Sabatini: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3066.