Small business owners should be on alert for invoices being sent out from Local Eco Pages, Inc., an Internet directory provider. A member of Business Consumer Alliance was recently sent an invoice by email from Local Eco Pages, Inc., demanding payment of $1,455.72 for online advertising and web optimization services. This puzzled the owner, who operates a driving instruction school in Washington, because he never did business with Local Eco Pages. Instead of paying, he reached out to BCA for advice.
When we received the emailed invoice, the first thing we noticed is that the date for billing was July 2014, well over three years ago. There were several typos on the invoice, a telltale sign that this may be a scam, and the only method of payment offered is by check or to write in credit card information, including the security code, and mail it back.
While the invoice shows a billing date of July 2014, a little research showed the localecopages.com website was not created until December 2014, which is also the time the company filed a listing for Local Eco Pages Incorporated with the NYS Department of State Division of Corporations. So according to the company, they provided services before they were even in business—quite an impressive feat!
We then went to the website to search for the member’s company. Guess what we found? No listing at all for his business. In fact, only one driving school appears when doing a search. In addition, we noticed that several areas of the website did not work and the option to “Make a Payment” online leads to their contact page.
Speaking of contacting the business, the invoice shows an address located in New York; however, the website domain registration indicates the business is based in Canada. A search of the Canadian address displays an apartment building. We tried calling the phone number and no matter which option we chose we were directed to a voicemail asking the caller to leave a message.
Our member is not the only one to be contacted by this business that appears to be a directory scam. We found accounts online of several other small businesses that were sent phony invoices for services they never authorized. When asking for proof of authorization or contracts, Local Eco Pages were not able to provide the information.
All of these red flags warn that this is a scam. Small businesses do well to take heed and protect themselves from getting taken by these types of cons. Typically, these scammers make a phone call pretending they’re verifying contact information to update or confirm existing directory listings. Or they may claim the listing is up for renewal or a cancellation request was received and they need to confirm your information. They may reach an employee that unknowingly will give the contact information for verification purposes. They, in turn, send fraudulent invoices claiming services were rendered but not paid for and demanding payment. When the invoices are not paid, they may step up their actions by sending collection notices and making threats to intimidate the business into paying.
If you receive an invoice that is unfamiliar, check it out before you pay. Request that the company provide proof of the services, a contract, and confirmation emails or letters that they should have provided if the service was authorized. In addition, ask for the name of the employee who agreed to the service, along with the date that this occurred.
BCA provides information, tips, and advice to businesses and consumers alike. Check out our blog, “5 Deceptive Scams Small Businesses Should Be Aware Of” to familiarize yourself with common cons that affect businesses and find out how to avoid them.