Phone directory listing scammers get fined
Hundreds of small businesses around the country which fell prey to a phone directory listings scam, and have endured relentless threats of legal action and “blacklisting” if they fail to pay for a long-term online listing, will be relieved to know that those threats are bogus too.
Last week the Council for Debt Collectors found two "debt collecting" companies guilty of improper conduct and fined them R100,000 each, R90,000 of that being suspended for three years on condition they don’t commit further “transgressions” in that time. In effect, they must both pay a fine of R10,000 by the end of June.
The scam works thus: an operation calling itself White Business Pages Pty Ltd or White Pages Business Listings phones businesses listed in bold print in Telkom’s phone directories for areas both big and small across the country, then asks for an email address in order to send a form confirming the accuracy of that listing.
The email subsequently sent states: “Kindly ensure the information requested below is filled in correctly, once completed you may send via email...”
The large print says free search engine optimisation. But the tiny, barely legible print, which most recipients don’t read, states: “I am aware that this is a twelve-month contract - R8,340…” and that the online directory in question has nothing to do with Telkom.
“Delayed payments will incur penalty fees after 30 days and will be handed over for collection…”
Once “handed over”, the fees get added on at an alarming rate and the “pay up” harassment intensifies.
The Council for Debt Collectors held a disciplinary hearing against NCR Legal Debt Collectors and Debt Review Administrators last week for various forms of improper conduct.
The former is owned by Sanjith Surajpal (29) and the latter by Ishwarlall (Ashwin) Dwarika (36). There were 20 complaints against them in total.
The charges ranged from not being registered, to not identifying themselves properly in their correspondence, attempting to recover interest, charging legal fees and document fees and failing to include their company or cc number in correspondence.
Surajpal was accused of creating the false impression that the company is a firm of attorneys when in reality there was “only one director”, and Dwarika of making fraudulent, misleading representations by talking about “my client” when it is one and the same company.
In other words, the companies dupe business owners - mostly small business owners - into committing to a 12- or 24-month contract for a listing with some obscure online directory that they never have sight of, and then contacts them relentlessly as a debt collecting company, demanding that they pay up.
The validity of the contracts themselves is being investigated by the National Consumer Commission.
- If you have received such a demand from such a “debt collector”, lodge a formal complaint with the Council for Debt Collectors. Go to www.cfdc.org.za for details. All debt collectors have to be registered with the Council in order to operate legally. Always ask a collector for their registration number and then check if it is valid.