Friday, 28 October 2011

Indirect directories

To every thing there is a season. A time to deceive and a time to expose the deceivers.

The run up to Christmas and the New Year is often the best time for certain scams and deceptions. Maybe it’s because we all go slightly mad at Christmas or maybe it’s the sense of a new year approaching, I don’t know. There are certainly some scams that rely on a seasonal business cycle.

The most obvious example is the telephone directory. I don’t mean the one we get from BTC or the local printed competitors, they’re legitimate (if often inaccurate). I mean the online directories that always, in my experience, are either scams or deceptions.

The World Business Guide is probably now a well-known scam. This organization with the grand-sounding name is in fact nothing grand at all. They advertise via email this time of year, offering to place your company details in their directory which they claim is available on CD as well as online. The email asks that you complete a form with your company details and email or fax it to them. The introduction says clearly and in bold capital letters “UPDATING IS FREE OF CHARGE”.

What they’re hoping is that people will misunderstand the word “updating” and will think it means “submitting” or “informing”. What they actually mean is that once your details have been inserted into their directory any subsequent updates or changes are free. What they mean is “corrections” are free.

Hidden in the very small print is this:
“I will have an insertion into its database for three years. The price per year is Euro 995. The subscription will be automatically extended every year for another year.”
Once you make the mistake of sending them the form with your company details you’re trapped. You’ll then be bombarded with invoices, repeat invoices, follow-up invoices, aggressive emails and even lawyer’s letters from the World Business Guide demanding that hidden €995. They’ll ignore anything you say about it being a mistake by you or a deceptive practice by them and insist you pay up.

Although the vast majority of the victims refuse to submit a small proportion do eventually pay up. It only takes a few companies to cough up the money and they’re in profit. The sad irony is that even those victims who were bullied into paying needn’t have done so. No company has EVER been sued by the crooks that run the World Business Guide. Not once, it’s a bluff. Nobody needs to pay.

There’s also some confusion about where these crooks operate. Their web site says they’re based in Spain and the Netherlands but elsewhere they say they’re “a corporation organized and existing under the laws of BVI”. “BVI” means the British Virgin Islands, an offshore financial centre with a rather relaxed attitude towards shady characters. The ridiculous “University of SouthCentral Los Angeles”, a fake university that threatened to sue us a couple of years ago was also based there.

There’s also a more important question about the World Business Guide. Who actually uses it? Ask yourself, have YOU ever used an online directory? I know I’ve used the online BTC directory once or twice but that was such a ghastly experience that I gave up (particularly as the link to their directory on the BTC web site is currently incorrect so it doesn’t work anyway).

I’m not sure that anyone uses online directories, even the local ones. We’ve had several readers get in touch about a local directory calling itself the “SADC Yellow Pages”. On other occasions it’s called itself both "Yellow Pages Botswana" or "Business Directories Botswana" but whatever they call themselves they raise suspicions. To begin with, like the World Business Guide, they seem to have adopted slightly shady tactics. I got a series of calls at our office myself from them over the last few weeks. When I finally spoke to them they invited me to “update” our entry in their directory. There’s that word again, “update”. I told them that we didn’t already have an entry but they said they had put us in the “Business Training” section of their directory last year for free.

That was a lie. We are not in their directory, we never have been, they don’t have a “Business Training” section in their directory and they were lying about “updating” it. They seem to be another online directory that’s deceptive.

Also, something that’s curious about these people is that they too seem a little unclear about the truth. How can they claim they had my company details online last year when they were only registered as a company in South Africa last September? Sounds a little fishy to me.

My suggestion is to give these directories a miss. I can’t think of anything that you actually get for the significant sums of money they want you to pay, they behave in a fashion that can charitably be described as suspicious and I’m sure you can think of a better way to spend a few thousand Pula on in the run-up to Christmas, can’t you?

Like a Christmas party for instance. Don’t forget our invitation!

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