Scams and warnings

Publishing scams

Most publishers are reputable, providing valuable services to businesses. However, a small minority will resort to dishonesty. Rogue publishers can make huge sums of money by getting victims to pay for adverts in publications that do not exist, or are not what people are led to believe. Although the amounts involved are not often large, the tactics used by rogue publishers (particularly when chasing payments) can cause nuisance and, sometimes, genuine alarm or distress.

A typical rogue publisher is little more than a telesales team armed with a pile of telephone directories and other publications containing adverts. Smaller businesses are often targeted and the callers use deliberately misleading language, often carefully scripted, to sell advertising space in various types of publications - wall planners, diaries, yearbooks, crime prevention or drugs awareness booklets. Costs usually range from about £100 to £1,000, depending on the size of advert. Sometimes it is claimed the publication is being produced on behalf of some reputable or worthy sounding cause, or that proceeds will go to charity.

In reality, some of these rogue publishers produce nothing at all and, although some may produce a few token copies of the supposed publication, these are not circulated in large numbers, or in the right areas, to be of any real benefit to the advertisers. 

As with most scams, prevention is better than cure. The more that people know about such operations, the less likely they are to become victims. 

Publishing Scam examples

Bogus invoice scam 

The simplest and most obvious scam is that bogus invoices are sent to businesses for adverts in fictitious publications. This is a very crude hit and miss approach but a surprising number of victims pay the invoice without question, particularly if the amount involved is relatively small. Summer months are a popular time for such scams, when key accounts and management staff are on leave. 

Many bogus invoice scams are now sent by e-mail. A typical tactic is to make reference to a fictitious order that has been placed and indicate a specific amount of money that has, or is due to be, deducted from their credit card/bank account. The real purpose of the e-mail is to get people to click on a link within the e-mail. This often takes the user to a malicious website that will attempt to load a virus or other malware onto the user's PC. Such e-mails should be deleted immediately - under no circumstances should users click on links within the e-mail. 

Operative transfer scam 

The business gets a call from a telesales worker who claims to be from a legitimate publisher that the company has used before (contact details are often obtained from genuine publications in which they have previously advertised). If the victim expresses an interest, they are transferred to another person, allegedly in a different department. Victims often agree to place an advert because they believe they are dealing with a publisher they have used before and it is not until an invoice arrives from a publisher they have never heard of that they suspect anything. If attempts are made to contact the publisher concerned, however, they are usually told that the call in which they agreed to place an advert was tape recorded, which the rogue publisher then claims is 'evidence' of a 'verbal contract'. Of course, the conversation with the first person (during which the victim has been deceived) is never recorded, only the conversation with the second person who has actually done the 'selling' - and that person is careful not to mention the name of the company that he represents. 

Authorisation scam 

An initial call is made to a business and the caller asks for the details of two people who can authorise an advert to be placed. Later, a call is made to one of those people who is asked to authorise an advert that he is led to believe has been provisionally booked by the other person, who is referred to by name to make the story sound genuine. Often, the victim authorises the advert without checking with the other person. 

Repeat business scam 

A business is contacted by phone or letter and asked if they want to place an advert in the next edition of a publication which they are falsely informed the business has advertised in before (the likelihood being that there was no previous edition). In some cases where the approach is by letter, photocopies of adverts taken from publications like Yellow Pages are included to give an air of authenticity. Many victims authorise the 'repeat advert' without checking any further.

Credibility scams

In order to give their supposed publication respectability and appeal, many rogue publishers will claim some connection with a worthy cause or charity:

  • Charity booklets - Some rogue publishers mislead victims to believe they are registered charities by using names very similar to well-known legitimate charitable organisations. Some do produce booklets and pamphlets on behalf of registered charities. The publisher keeps any revenue that is generated from advertising and may produce some booklets or pamphlets that it gives to the charity concerned to distribute. Some unscrupulous publishers, however, only produce a small amount of these and many of the adverts, for which they have taken payment, never appear in print. Others will claim that part of the revenue generated by their publication will be donated to a specific charity with which they claim affiliation and whose name is used to entice advertisers. Often, however, only a tiny fraction of the money the publisher receives ends up with the charity involved. Many victims agree to place an advert because they feel they are making a substantial contribution to charity, but might not do so if they knew how much was going straight into the pockets of the publishers involved. 
  • Crime prevention 'yearbooks' - Rogue publishers may claim that these are being produced with the help of agencies such as the police when, in fact, they have no involvement at all.
  • 'Drug awareness' or 'Youth action' booklets - Rogue publishers often claim that these will be distributed in schools and colleges. The key question is which schools and colleges because, for most small businesses, that form of advertising is only effective if it is done in their local area. 

Debt collection

No matter what tactic is used, once a victim has received an invoice from a rogue publisher, they will probably be chased relentlessly for the money. Some victims pay up even though they feel they have been 'conned' because they feel it is simply not worth the time and effort to make a stand. But this will mean they are identified as an 'easy touch' and will be targeted again. The details of businesses that pay up are valuable to scammers and can be sold on.

Some rogue publishers chase payment through 'debt collection agencies', but these are often owned and run by the publishers themselves, sometimes from the same premises. They are likely to use methods that legitimate agencies would not. 

Trading standards - consumers

(via Citizens' Advice consumer helpline)

Email: [email protected]

Tel: 0808 223 1133


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