Seattle, Washington - The Federal Trade Commission has halted two Canada-based schemes that defrauded small businesses and nonprofits in the United States by billing them for unwanted listings in online “yellow pages” business directories.
The owner of a Montreal-based operation that bilked millions of dollars from businesses, churches, nonprofits and local governments will be banned from the business-directory industry under a settlement with the FTC.
In June 2014, the FTC charged Oni Nathifa Julien and several of her companies with contacting organizations under the guise of confirming contact information in a directory in which their organization already appeared. The defendants billed organizations $479.95 or more, using invoices with the walking fingers image often associated with local yellow page directories. If the recipients disputed the invoices, the defendants used deceptive collection tactics, such as playing altered or incomplete audio recordings to give the false impression that an employee of the organization had authorized a directory listing.
Under the settlement order, Julien is prohibited from misrepresenting any good or service, including that organizations have a preexisting business relationship with her or anyone else, that they have agreed to buy something, or that they owe money. She is also barred from continuing to collect money from past customers or profiting from or keeping their personal information. The order imposes a $3,081,969 judgment that will be suspended due to Julien’s inability to pay. The full judgment will become due immediately if she is found to have misrepresented her financial condition.
The Commission vote approving the proposed stipulated order for permanent injunction and monetary judgment was 5-0. The order was entered by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington at Seattle on March 10, 2015.