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O.C. Firm Will Repay Victims of Ad Ploy

April 27, 2006|Sara Lin | Times Staff Writer

An Anaheim firm that tricked consumers into buying one year of advertising with them has agreed to a $535,000 settlement and to repay its victims, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Between 2003 and 2004, Yellow Pages Inc. -- which is not affiliated with the Yellow Pages Book phone directory -- sent checks to thousands of businesses, schools and nonprofit organizations in 27 states, prosecutors said.

What the victims didn't realize, prosecutors said, was that the checks' fine print said once the checks were cashed, the recipient was obligated to buy one year of advertising for $179. Yellow Pages Inc. runs an online phone directory and publishes regional phonebooks.

Assuming that the checks were refunds from their local phone directory, many organizations cashed them. Most of the checks were written for amounts as small as $3.49.

Yellow Pages Inc. used a collection firm to retrieve the fees and threatened to send victims into collection if they didn't pay up. Prosecutors say thousands of people fell for the ploy.

The Orange County district attorney's office, along with law enforcement agencies from 26 states, sued Yellow Pages Inc., also known as Electronic Directories LLC, for unfair business practices. The settlement, reached Tuesday, will be split among the states and used to cover investigation costs.

Yellow Pages Inc. agreed to reimburse victims in any of the 26 states. Victims must come forward within 60 days.

Yellow Pages Inc. is not facing criminal charges, but it is prohibited from sending check solicitations to or from any of the participating states.

"We're trying to get these type of check solicitations stopped," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Michelle Cipolletti, who handled the case. "We think they're really misleading."

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