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A Publication of WTVP

The BBB recently warned the Peoria-area medical community to be on the alert for a potential web-listing scam.

Over the past several months, the Better Business Bureau has handled more than a dozen complaints from medical professionals around the country alleging that the company Medicalindex.org is sending solicitations via fax requesting confirmation of basic business information. According to complainants, these faxes are followed by invoices for two years of web listing services at $598 per year.

Medical professionals have reported that in some cases, they were able to reach the company and confront them about the bill. “The total bill was sent for $1,196, and we were told if we pay $398, the CEO would waive the rest of the fee,” said one doctor from Missouri. Others report the company has threatened to ruin their credit. One doctor from California received a note with an invoice stating, “We know maintaining a good credit record is important to you and since additional collection and admin fees plus interest will commence today, we’d like to alert you to the fact that payment of your account due has not yet been received,” and that his account was now “seriously overdue.”

A BBB investigation revealed no valid telephone number for Medicalindex.org. The address leads to a mail drop in Springfield, Illinois, while the web address is registered in Australia. The company also operates as AmericanHealthDirectory.com, Business Directories, LLC and Wholesaledirectory.com. As of this writing, BBB’s request for a response to consumer complaints has gone unanswered.

Many will pay the bogus invoices with the mistaken belief that it is simply a misunderstanding. But it’s not. In fact, it is a growing form of fraud run by international scam artists.

How the Scam Works
The Call. First, con artists make cold calls to offices. They ask the person answering the phone to “confirm” the address, telephone number and other information, claiming it’s for a listing in the yellow pages or similar directory. The scammers then fire off a rapid series of questions they may tape-record, sometimes sliding in a confusing reference to the cost. The scam works because fraudsters convince the person who picks up the phone they’re just “verifying” an arrangement the company already has with the directory.

The Bill. The con artist then sends urgent invoices for $500 or more—sometimes including a copy of the “directory,” which is usually worthless and never distributed or promoted as promised. They are often just websites with listings of various businesses. In many cases, the person paying the bills will simply cut a check, not realizing the company never agreed to pay the hefty fee for the directory. But if businesses resist, the scammers turn up the heat, threatening collection or legal action to get payment. They may use the name of the person who answered the phone or play a “verification tape,” which has often been doctored, as “proof” the company owes them money. If companies stand firm in their refusal to pay for services they didn’t authorize, the scammer may try to smooth things over by offering a phony discount… or they may let the company return the directory—at its own cost, of course—but insist on payment for the so-called listing. At this point, many companies pay up just to stop the hounding. What they don’t know is they’ll likely get more bogus invoices—either from the same scam artist or from others who have bought their contact information for a new scheme.

How Can I Protect My Business?
Train your staff to spot this scam. Educate your employees about how the scam works. In addition to your regular receptionist or office administrator, talk to everyone who may pick up the phone. Put a copy of this alert in employee mailboxes. Mention it in a staff meeting. Post it on the break room bulletin board or where employees clock in and out.

Inspect your invoices. Depending on the size and nature of your business, consider implementing a purchase order system to make sure you’re paying only legitimate expenses. At minimum, designate a small group of employees with authority to approve purchases and pay bills. Train your team to send all inquiries to them. Compile a list of the companies you typically use for directory services, office supplies and other recurring expenses. Encourage the people who pay the bills to develop a “show me” attitude when it comes to unexpected invoices from unfamiliar companies. Don’t pay for products or services you’re not sure you ordered.

Verify to clarify. Many business directory scam artists are headquartered in Canada, but use post office boxes or mail drops to make it look like they are in the United States. Before paying, check them out for free at bbb.org, and read the BBB’s report on them.

File a complaint. If a scammer is sending you bogus bills, speak up. Complain to the BBB, and let the FTC know by filing a complaint at ftc.gov or calling 877-FTC-HELP. Your complaints help shape the FTC’s law enforcement agenda, so it’s important to sound off when you spot a scam. Concerned about fraudsters’ threats to tarnish your credit if you don’t pay? Many will simply drop the matter—and may even provide a refund—if they know you’ve complained to the BBB or law enforcement. iBi

For more information, call (309) 670-1182 or email [email protected].

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