You'd better watch out if you're letting your fingers do the walking! Just because an invoice may bear the "walking fingers" logo and the Yellow Pages name doesn't mean it's the real McCoy. In fact, you may be paying to advertise in a directory that will never be published.

How can this be? Well, it's actually very easy.

Neither the Yellow Pages name or the "walking fingers" logo is protected by federal copyright or trademark registration. And it seems that some unscrupulous promoters are taking advantage of this. They are soliciting advertising in alternative or nonexistent business directories. And while the directories appear to be legitimate Yellow Page publications, they are not distributed to the public, and as a result, offer no benefits to businesses that pay to advertise in them.

Typical language used on the bogus ad solicitation include: "present listing information"; "prompt payment is necessary"; "renewal payment stub"; and "directory listing renewal invoice." The ad solicitation may also appear on Yellow Pages invoices.

The U.S. Postal Service requires that all solicitations carry the following notice: "This is not a bill. This is a solicitation. You are under no obligation to pay this amount stated above unless you accept the offer." If this disclaimer doesn't appear on the solicitation or invoice you receive in the mail, the company you're dealing with is violating the law.

Before you buy advertising space through a mail solicitation or pay an "invoice," take the following steps:

*Check out the company and its publication. Call your local Yellow Pages publisher to see if it is affiliated with the soliciting company.

*Ask for a copy of a previous director edition.

*Ask the publisher for written information about where the directory is distributed, the way it is distributed (does every local telephone customer receive it?), how often it is published, and distribution or circulation figures.

* Ask if directories are available free. If there is a fee, ask for the cost.

* Check with your local and state consumer protection agencies to determine if any complaints have been filed about the publisher.


Scheme Team

For more information on schemes against small businesses, you may contact the following agencies and organizations directly or browse their Web sites.

* Federal Trade Commission, CRC-240, Washington, DC 20580; (202) 326-3128; www.ftc.gov

* Council of Better Business Bureaus Inc., 4200 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22203; www.bbb.org

* Yellow Pages Publishers Association, 3773 Cherry Creek North Drive, Suite 920, Denver, CO 80209; (303) 333-9772; www.yppa.org

* United States Postal Service, Washington, DC 20260-2100; (202) 268-4267; www.usps.gov