BULLETIN: FTC, Canadian Competition Bureau Take Down Alleged ‘Yellow Pages’ Scam; Case Reminiscent Of Failed 2009 Bid By AdViewGlobal Autosurf To Launch New Website With Purported ‘Listing Service’

BULLETIN: The U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the Canadian Competition Bureau have taken down an alleged ‘Yellow Pages” scam in which businesses in the United States and Canada were deceived into paying for unwanted listings in online business directories.

The scam was centered in Europe, authorities from both countries said. The Competition Bureau said it is seeking $11.55 million in penalties.

U.S. targets received unsolicited faxes that included “a name such as YellowPage-Illinois.com, depending upon the location of the organization, and a ‘walking fingers’ logo similar to the one commonly associated with local yellow pages,” the FTC said.

In May 2009, the PP Blog reported that AdViewGlobal (AVG), an autosurf with close ties to Florida-based AdSurfDaily, sought to launch a new website. The launch ultimately failed, but not before it published a “Walking Fingers” logo and advertised the availability of a purported Yellow Pages directory service.

Whether AdViewGlobal was offering the purported service independently or through a vendor never was clear. What was clear is that regulators long have warned the public about Yellow Pages scams, which appear in various forms.

After AVG scrubbed its website launch and launched yet-another new site in the days following the failed launch, the Walking Fingers logo disappeared and the purported listing program that had existed only days earlier never again was referenced. Instead, AVG linked itself to a purported suite of new products and services and a purported bid to save the rain forest.

The appearance of the Walking Fingers logo on the AVG website and the purported directory program led to questions about whether AVG was immersing itself in yet another new scam.

U.S. officials said today that the most recent variant of the Yellow Pages scam operated from from Palma de Mallorca, Spain, and used “corporations based in England and the Netherlands.”

Named defendants in the case were Jan Marks; Yellow Page Marketing B.V., also doing business as Yellow Page B.V. and Yellow Page (Netherlands) B.V.; Yellow Publishing Ltd.; and Yellow Data Services Ltd., the FTC said.

“The FTC is committed to working with its law enforcement colleagues in Canada and around the world to stamp out international schemes that target U.S. consumers,” said David C. Vladeck, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “We applaud our friends in Canada for helping to coordinate this international effort.”

A top Canadian official called the alleged Yellow Pages scheme a “cross-border scam.”

“The [Competion] Bureau is pleased that the FTC has joined us in targeting the individuals and companies involved in this cross-border scam,” said Melanie Aitken, Commissioner of Competition. “International collaboration is key to cracking down on multi-jurisdictional scams.”

Churches, nonprofits, doctors’ offices and retailers were targeted in the scam, the FTC said.

The scam was designed to make fax recipients believe they had a preexisting relationship with the defendants and to dupe them into entering purported contracts and paying for listings. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission also brought an action, the FTC said.

When AVG was claiming in 2009 that it had a listing service, promoters also were pumping purported “matching bonuses” of 200 percent and even 250 percent for autosurf enrollees and their sponsors.

AVG suspended cashouts about a month after displaying a Walking Fingers logo to which the acronym “AVGA” had been added.

 

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