Business Columns & Blogs

Know the difference between an invoice and a solicitation

A reader: I have my own business and just received what looks like an invoice for a yellow page directory. How do I know if this is something I want to pay?

Action Line: If you receive an invoice for renewing your advertisement in a local business directory, beware of a scam in which solicitations disguised as invoices are mailed to firms by copycat publishers.

These misleading solicitations, asking for $100 on up to as much as $1,900, have come to our attention. Most include disclaimers required by federal postal law to distinguish a solicitation from an invoice. But many recipients who don’t read the fine print are misled by the names of the soliciting companies, which resemble those of well-known business directory distributors.

Many copycat publishers use the familiar “let your fingers do the walking” logo and the term “yellow pages.” Use of the logo is not illegal, since neither the logo nor the term “yellow pages” is a registered trademark.

Most of the soliciting firms publish a directory of sorts, but the value and circulation of these publications may be questionable. The targets of the solicitations usually are selected from ads placed in local yellow page directories. Some solicitations may include clippings from bona fide yellow pages ads, or they may be stamped “renewal” or “amount due.”

It is against U.S. Postal Service regulations to mail a bill, invoice or statement of account due that is actually a solicitation, unless it bears one of these disclaimers:

▪ “This is a solicitation for the order of goods or services, or both, and not a bill, invoice, or statement of account due. You are under no obligation to make any payments on account of this offer unless you accept this offer.”

▪ “This is not a bill. This is a solicitation. You are under no obligation to pay unless you accept this offer.”

One of these disclaimers must be conspicuously printed on the face of the solicitation in at least 30-point type. If you object to a solicitation, you may contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 201-324-3720.

The Better Business Bureau recommends that you always check on a company before you do business with it. But, if you have paid the invoice you can contact the company to find out if the directory is one that you would want to advertise in or to get a refund.

If the company does not offer to help you resolve the issue, you can go to bbb.org and file a complaint. This is the fastest, easiest way to file a complaint with BBB. The complaint will be forwarded to the BBB nearest the company location for processing. BBB will contact the company on your behalf to see if we can help you get the matter resolved.

Action Line is written by Blair Looney, president and CEO for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 4201 W. Shaw Ave., Suite 107, Fresno, CA 93722 or info@cencal.bbb.org.

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