(WTNH) — Anyone who runs a business knows the how important it is for customers to be able to find you. The internet helps. Word of mouth is best, say business owners. There are still plenty of folks, however, searching the old fashioned way: The phone book.
At L&J Pools in Bethel, Chris Gallo fills his day by filling orders. The pool supply company relies on that word of mouth and phone directory. On a summer morning, Gallo looked at the fax machine. One of the sheets read “Yellow Page Connecticut.”
“It says we’d like to update your listing,” recalled Gallo.
The longtime employee filled the sheet out and faxed it back to the number, signing his name at the bottom.
Just a few days later, a company called Open Business Directory sent the pool supply company a letter. What Gallo had signed and sent back was not a sheet to update the phone book, but a contract with Open Business Directory. They were now asking the company for $1,188.
“We’re a small business,” said Gallo. $1,100 is someone’s paycheck.”
In fact, Gallo is not the first person to complain about the company. From Connecticut and across the United States, the Federal Trade Commission has taken more than 3,000 complaints against Open Business Directory.
They run the website Yellow-Page-USA.com. The company lists its main address in Moscow, Russia but has an office in Boston’s business district.
When the News8 Investigators did not get an answer over the phone, they went to the listed Boston address. Inside the Business Center at 225 Franklin Avenue, the company does not have employees, but rather mail forwarding.
A Federal Trade Commission spokesman said the tactic Open Business Directory is using is similar to another company that was shut down last year.
Yellow Page Marketing was fined $10.2 million in 2012.
Using the same “walking finger” logo commonly associated with the Yellow Pages, Yellow Page Marketing faxed contracts to companies and used those as signatures to contracts. The FTC called it “a scam.” Investigators collected more than 400,000 uncashed checks from the business.
The FTC is now investigating Open Business Directory. In the meantime, businesses like L&J Pools are told to wait.
“I’m still getting bills in the mail. They’re telling me to just ignore it. If it goes to collections, just ignore it,” said Gallo. “That’s not good enough.”
A representative for Open Business Directory told us over the phone that the signed contracts are all they need. Further requests for comment have gone unreturned.