Small businesses with paid listings in one of Telkom’s regional phone books are vulnerable to a new scam, warns consumer journalist Wendy Knowler.
Businesses with bold listings could be a target for a company that’s running a very clever scam pretending to be Telkom’s directory.
They dupe businesspeople across the country, especially in the the past six months.— Wendy Knowler, consumer journalist
Knowler says she's received several complaints from jewellers, architects, speech therapists, guesthouse owners and videographers who have all fallen victim.
A lot of the small businesses do pay up because, even though they know that they've been misled or scammed, they can't take the harassment.— Wendy Knowler, consumer journalist
The scammers find a bold listing in a phone book and make a call to the company and to get their official email address.
The scammers then send an email that goes something like this:
"I trust you are well. Ensure the above attachment is signed and returned to the email address provided at your soonest convenience. Please note this is for your telephone directory."
The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, which makes it look legit and adds to the impression that it’s just a confirmation of the business’ existing listing details.
The email also contains the local directory name at the top, for example Cape Peninsula Telephone Directory, 2018.
Read the fine-print
In large print, the email attachment reads: free Search Engine Optimisation.
But the small print, says otherwise: "This is a 12-month listing, at a cost of R7176 (written out in words so the eye doesn’t spot it) excluding VAT. You can cancel within 7 days of signing but you have to pay half R3588."
Most victims only find out that they've been scammed after seven days, once payment is demanded from the scammers' debt collector department.
What does the law say?
Knowler advises that all parties have five business days in which to cancel a direct marketing agreement without incurring any penalty, by law.
Last year, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASASA) ruled that the company, then called Directories Services 2, used a misleading approach. The Durban-based company appears to have changed its name to Telecom Directory.
According to Knowler, one of debt collections agencies responsible for harassing victim business - NCR Legal Debt Collections - is owned by the same person who owns the imposter directory listings operation. His name is Ashwin Dwarika.
The Council for Debt Collectors has confirmed that NCR Legal Collections registered with the Council last May.
The council has urged victims to lodge their formal complaint here.
Don't pay up. Some people are getting debt collectors emails, other get scary-looking letters and threats from attorneys.— Wendy Knowler, consumer journalist
Unless you get an actual summons, from an actual court, just ignore it.— Wendy Knowler, consumer journalist
Two victims have shared their experiences of falling for the scam and Knowler shared her advice with the public.
Take a listen to the conversation during the Consumer Talk feature:
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