Law Talk: from the Courthouse to your House

Dangerous Scam Catching Ministries by Surprise!

Nothing, truly, is ever new under the sun. A scam targeting churches which we thought had died years ago has recently resurrected itself yet again, only this time the scammers are changing their tactics ever so slightly, and using more advanced technology in order to deceive more people.

Description of the Scam: 

While details of this scam will vary depending upon which scammer is involved, the following scenario poses the most frequent method by which churches calling the NCLL for help have been victimized. The church receives a phone call from someone posing as a representative for the Yellow Pages, or the “Online Public Yellow Pages.” The caller asks a series of routine, non-threatening questions eliciting a “Yes” answer, such as “Is your address still at (your current address)?” and “Are you the Pastor, or do you have any authority in your church?” The pastor’s immediate response to all these questions is “Yes.” The final question will usually be something to the effect of “Do you want to continue with the same ad that you run in the Yellow Pages?” His answer will usually be an unsuspecting “Yes.” He assumes this call is simply to verify the current information that’s already in the Real Yellow Pages, for which he has never paid anything in the past.

Within a couple weeks, the church will receive an invoice from an “Online Public Yellow Pages” usually in the amount of $590-$600. Of course, neither the pastor or anyone at the church recalls agreeing to pay for advertising in this amount (because they haven’t), so the pastor will call the phone number on the invoice, or may simply not pay the bill, at which point he will receive threatening phone calls and subsequent bills with penalties included. The pastor will usually wind up calling, or will eventually be called by a “supervisor” or an "account manager” from the on-line Public Yellow Pages.

The pastor’s vehement denial of this agreement will be met with the supervisor or manager’s explanation that they have in their possession his voice-recorded agreement authorizing the ordering of this service. They play back the audio recording, “Do you have the authority to order this online service on behalf of the church? Yes." “Are you confirming the order for this ad with the Online Yellow Pages in the amount of $590.00? Yes.” What the pastor doesn’t know is that his “Yes” answers (or the voice of his wife or secretary) have been digitally cut and placed after these questions in order to make it appear as though he did in fact authorize the advertising service. After hearing his own voice or that of his wife or secretary recorded responding to the questions, and facing threats of being sent to collections and the subsequent ruining of credit, the pastor caves in to the pressure and, sadly, pays the bill.

How to avoid being a victim of the Yellow Pages scam:

1. Never give personal information over the phone.

2. Avoid answering “Yes” or “No” questions over the phone to solicitors. This is necessary in order to avoid the scammer digitally cutting your “Yes” answers and placing them after questions. Instead, answer the questions in a complete sentence without saying “Yes” or “No.”  For example, “Is your address still (your current address)?” Your answer could be “The church’s current address is . . .”

3. Remind your staff that only certain persons have authority to bind the church to contractual agreements.

4. If you have any questions on a bill or invoice, do not ever just pay the bill thinking that the service provider must be correct. Make sure that you have a full understanding of the services for which you are paying.  Remember, you do not always get what you expect, you get what you inspect.

5. Ensure that your staff is aware of this scam and carefully instruct them on these tips.

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