State sues Yellow Pages United alleging deceptive practices
The state attorney general’s office filed a lawsuit in the 4th Judicial Circuit Court against an advertising company based in Jacksonville Beach alleging the company is violating the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.
The complaint names defendants United Directories Inc., d/b/a Yellow Pages United, and Mark Smith, its president.
According to the attorney general’s office, the defendants have been registered with the Florida Department of State since 2000 and since 2011 or earlier have operated a nationwide online “yellow pages” business that deceives consumers into paying nearly $800 per year for an automatically-renewing subscription for a listing in an “obscure, little-used online telephone directory.”
United’s registered agent, attorney Haas Hatic with Greenspoon Marder in Fort Lauderdale, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Since 2011, consumers in Florida harmed by the defendants’ trade practices have submitted nearly 1,900 complaints to the Florida Attorney General, the Federal Trade Commission, the Better Business Bureau and other agencies related to United’s marketing, billing and collection practices, the lawsuit states.
The attorney general alleges that United markets its business directory listings by sending unsolicited direct mail solicitations to consumers whose names and addresses the defendants obtain from public records and other sources.
United then uses “a variety of deceptive and misleading tactics” to induce consumers to sign and return the original solicitation and subsequently pay, either by credit card or check, false invoices that are sent by United.
The lawsuit states that the initial solicitation from United includes the term “yellow pages” and prominently features the familiar “walking fingers” logo, both commonly associated with AT&T and the Real Yellow Pages, leading many consumers to believe that United is affiliated with the Real Yellow Pages directory.
The complaint further states that the solicitations deceive consumers as to the true nature and cost of the product by making it appear that consumers are renewing a free listing in their locally distributed Real Yellow Pages, when in reality the defendants plan to bill the consumers approximately $792 annually for an online listing maintained by United.
If the consumer doesn’t provide a credit card for payment or remit a check to United, the company begins collection procedures for the purported obligation, according to the attorney general.
The lawsuit asks the court to prohibit United from continuing to conduct the alleged deceptive practices, to cancel contracts United has with consumers and provide restitution to consumers harmed by United.
The complaint also asks the court to award the attorney general civil penalties against the defendants in the amount of $10,000 for each violation of state law; $15,000 for each violation in which a senior citizen, disabled person or member of the U.S. military was harmed by United’s solicitation and collection practices.
The lawsuit was filed Friday and is assigned to Circuit Judge Virginia Norton.