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Warning about rogue directory invoices

Protect Your Business Against This South African Scam

Welcome. BusinessDirectory.na is a genuine, honest and professional Namibian organization that delivers both value for money and excellent service to its clients. But not everyone with a directory is “straight”.

You have no doubt heard of the Nigerian “Section 419 Frauds” where criminals tempt people via email to pay a fee in order to receive a lottery prize, an unclaimed windfall from a deceased person, the seized funds of a deposed African leader and so on. The essence of these frauds is “advance fee” demands – that is, extorting money on the promise of a large payout that never happens. This criminal scam is so widespread that police worldwide have specific departments just to deal with it.

A very similar “advance payment” fraud being is carried out continuously throughout southern Africa by so-called business directories based in RSA.

We have prepared these special pages to protect your business against directory scams now being perpetrated by South African rogues; the run-up to Christmas is the busiest “season” for their scams. They trade in different cities under a wide variety of names and website addresses. Recently, we emailed everyone currently listed with BusinessDirectory.na to inform them of the most common trading names used by these con artists. If you did not receive that list and would like to have it for quick reference by you and your staff, please email keith@businessdirectory.na and we will reply promptly.

Thing You Should Know:

* The rogue directories – many of which simply do not exist or function properly, have up to 100 online domains or web addresses. This allows the owners to stop one operation and shift to another, “reinventing” their business trading names when being pursued by the law, tax man or angry consumers.

* According to their websites, they have physical addresses in Cape Town, Pretoria and Durban. Most of the recent scam calls and emails appear to come from Durban. But you can bet that neither the “boiler room” (their hard-sell call centre) nor the owners masterminding this operation will be easy to locate!

* They are pulling off these frauds not only in South Africa and Namibia, but also in  Botswana, Swaziland, Zambia, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, DRC, Angola and Mozambique. And they’re getting very rich by stealing information from legitimate directories and demanding money from hard-working businesses throughout these countries.

How the Scam Works
Typically, you receive an email, fax or phone call from a South African sales person you don’t know. He or she may pretend to represent “The Yellow Pages”, “Namibia Telecom” or another legal business. Or they may name some organization you never heard of, but that sounds plausible, like “Namibian Classified Business Directory”. They will claim that you already have a listing or promotion in their online directory. If you protest that you do not, they’ll assure you that “last year, you had a free listing, but it is about to expire, and from now on, you have to pay”.

They have all your contact details, because they’ve taken them from other, legitimate directories like BusinessDirectory.na  – so if you demand to see a copy of your promotion, they will quickly “manufacture” a simple form showing your business name, address, phone etc. and ask you to “check that everything is correct, then fax/email it back to us with your signature so we can update your entry.”

If they don’t use this “update form” ploy as their way into your bank account, they will fax or email you a “booking form”. It is actually an invoice, even though that word probably does not appear anywhere on it. Beware. Immediately – while still talking to you by phone, the sales person will put you under pressure to sign and fax or email back the document right away on the basis that, “our publication date is very close, so if you want to get into the 2014 edition, you must act fast!”

If you are foolish enough to give them your signature, they will charge you thousands of N$ every year for entries on probably non-existent “directories” that you don’t want or need. REMEMBER: ASKING FOR PAYMENT IN ADVANCE OF ANY SERVICES RENDERED IS ILLEGAL. YOU MAY GET NOTHING AT ALL IN RETURN.

DO NOT SIGN ANYTHING OR GIVE YOUR BANK ACCOUNT DETAILS.
You ALSO need to be aware of the fraudsters’ extortionate Terms and Conditions, which are shown on the SADC Directory Services Pty. website (and all its associated trading sites). These state that your “booking” will simply continue from year to year. You have just five days from booking (returning any signed document) to cancel, and if you cancel after this period, you will have to pay 75% of their total listing cost anyway. If you sent them a signed document (technically a booking, and therefore contractual) and fail to pay them promptly, they will threaten you with legal action and start charging you interest at 15.5% per annum!

Who is Being Scammed?
Directory frauds have been carried out by the same bunch for years – not only in South Africa and Namibia, but also in Botswana, Swaziland, Zambia, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, DRC, Angola and Mozambique. The scammers are getting very rich by harvesting information from legitimate directories like ours and then demanding large sums – up to N$9995 per year. They attack every possible kind of organisation, including industry, retailers, transport firms, tourism companies, doctors, lawyers and even local and national government.

Some South African directory scammers remain “barely legal” because, after extracting your cash, they may quickly produce a token online listing that costs them very little, simply to ward off police action and show that you did get “something” for your money. Given that their owners and directors never reveal their identities on any websites, and that the “directory head offices” change physical locations, web addresses and trading names frequently, you can judge for yourself whether “barely legal” also means “ethical and professional”.

You may read more about such directory scams at: http://ConsumerWatchdogbw.blogspot.com

Read about the same kind of scam in Australia. Lots of good tips here:

http://www.scamwatch.gov.au/content/index.phtml/itemId/1069844

This website tells you about the same scam in Botswana
http://consumerwatchdogbw.blogspot.com/search?q=yellow+pages+scam

What Do Fake Directory Invoices Look Like?
Here are three examples of bogus directory invoices sent recently to businesses in Swakopmund and shared with us at BusinessDirectory.na so that we can warn the public.

If you have received a “fishy” document from a directory you don’t recognise, please send a copy to: jude@businessdirectory.na Include info about any conversation or email exchange with the sales person in detail so that we can add new information and examples to these pages and save other business from getting burned.

samples-1-2

 samples-3-4

 samples-5-6

What You Can Do to Protect Your Organisation.

1)     Make sure everyone on your staff knows who is and is not allowed to authorize advertisements or listings. Ensure that only a designated manager has the power to authorize payments, and keep your bank details safe.

2)     Your authorized person  placing ads or directory listings should keep a file on a computer and/or as print-out sheets showing every advert or listing they placed in the current year. With this easy reference, you should be able to verify fast what promotions you have done with whom and what you have paid for each.

3)     If anyone contacts you about a directory listing and you haven’t dealt with them before or don’t know their company, check your file. If you still have doubts, challenge them to give you a url (website address) link to the page showing your listing and/or make them email a colour proof of the advert/promotion they claim you have with them. Don’t sign anything.

4)     NEVER PAY FOR ANY ADVERT OR LISTING IN ADVANCE. That’s not the way legitimate directories like our BusinessDirectory.na work. You should always receive and approve a colour proof of your entry before you are sent an invoice.

5)     Never give in to pressure from any salesman. Again, a legitimate business never resorts to hard-sell tactics. If you are approached by a sales person from a directory who is pushy or who warns you about a publication deadline, tell them to get lost or you will report them to the police.

6)     Be suspicious of any document that doesn’t give the full address, phone number and company registration number of the firm sending it; also beware of anyone on the phone or using email who conceals their full name, or seems to be using something “fishy” e.g. an obviously Asian woman calling herself by a name like “Donna O’Leary” or “Freya Schmidt”.

Where To Report Successful Scams or Attempted Directory Fraud
ALL directory scams, “advance fee” or “advance payment” frauds – call them what you will, should be reported both to the police in the country of the fraudsters and in your own country. The only way to deal with this problem is to speak up. The more information you can give about the South African sharks, the better the chances of clamping down on their activities.

As the 18th century politician Edmund Burke said,

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

South African Police Service (SAPS) You can email the Commercial Branch at: Commercial.HQ@saps.org.za

Namibian Police /Nampol – Contact the Commercial Crime Investigation Division
Phone: Detective Inspector Melt Van Schoor at 0811 273 779 or Detective Sergeant Mafwila at 081 246 9904.

http://www.fraud.org  – You can also report directory scams to this U.S. website that covers fraud worldwide.

www.scamdex.com -“Our mission is to collect, classify and index Internet scams and scam emails as fast as they appear, making them available for viewing within one hour of being received.” Report any scam: www.scamdex.com/ScamTipOff.php

And Finally….
If you can add useful information to these pages, we want to hear from you. Help us to get the word out and save businesses from falling into the trap of scam South African directories.

You can trust BusinessDirectory.na to look after your best interests and keep you informed about this matter.
Drop us a line with your comments, questions, experiences or contributions to: keith@businessdirectory.na  OR jude@businessdirectory.na

 

 

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