This week's Rogue baited its scheme by doing something we'd normally applaud. Yellow Pages Inc. sent small checks to thousands of businesses and churches in Oregon. The checks looked like refunds for overpayments on good ol' fashioned phone-book ads. Suuuuuuuuuu-prize!
The roguish catch—noted in the proverbial fine print on the back of the check—was that Yellow Pages Inc. has nothing to do with the regular phone book. The "refund" was, in fact, a disguised solicitation to advertise on the company's obscure website. By depositing the check, the endorser automatically got slapped with a $179 charge for a worthless Internet listing.
Jori Zan McKeel was in many ways a ready-made victim for this shady proposition. When she received her check for just over $3 in April 2004, she'd been forced to shutter her Salem body-piercing studio for several days to undergo minor surgery. Exhausted and overwhelmed with reopening her business, she says she deposited the check without examining it.
According to the state Attorney General's Office, hundreds of other Oregonians made the same mistake. Most of the marks did, indeed, advertise in their local phone books. And like McKeel, most assumed the "refund" was legit, until bills started arriving just a week after the booby-trapped checks cleared. In McKeel's case, calls from an aggressive collections agency started soon after the first bill. After a collections agent faxed her a copy of her signature on the check and threatened to sue her, she ponied up the $179.
"I never would have cashed the check, or bought an ad, if I'd known what it was actually was,"
According to state Attorney General Hardy Myers, Yellow Pages Inc. is out of business in Oregon; at the end of April, the company paid $525,000 to settle claims brought by Oregon and 26 other states over its bait 'n' switch. Myers says he'll try to persuade the '07 Legislature to adopt a law explicitly banning such "live check" scams.