John Howell column 11-13-12

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Scammers meet match with Cote; ruse uncovered

How many scams contact you at your home or business each day?

I get several daily by e-mail. All of them (with occasionally interesting variation) purport to be from someone who for some reason has a big stash of money in Africa, most of which he or she can’t wait to share with me if only I will … And that usually involves my sending some money or personal information.

Lately, we felt like the newspaper had been the victim of a telephone scam in which calls were made to local businesses from someone purporting to be calling for the Batesville magazine. They offered the opportunity for the customer to “upgrade” their ad (either to buy a bigger ad for a very low price or to move the advertisement to a better location, or both). However, the recipient had to pay at that moment by credit card to consummate the offer.

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That credit card “right now” sounded the alarm for several who received the call. We hope no one was deceived.

(The fall/winter edition of Batesville, The Magazine arrived from the printer last week. It is available from advertisers and at The Panolian.)

Last week, the Panola Partnership became aware of telephone callers selling ads on maps — this after the Partnership last spring had sanctioned the publication and sale of map advertisements through a vendor it had carefully screened. The telephone solicitors left several people they called, Partnership membership chairman Brandy Bright learned, with the impression that they were affiliated with or sanctioned by the Partnership.

The point is that anyone can sell magazine ads, and anyone can sell map ads, but when they create the impression that they are selling for someone they are not, they’ve crossed ethical and legal boundaries. Let the buyer beware — especially when someone calls you and asks for credit card or personal information.

Normand Cote ran into a different scam last week. The Mississippi Detective and Security Service owner is also a parishioner at St. Mary’s Catholic Church where they recently started receiving calls attempting to collect for past due payment for an online yellow pages directory.

Neither Father Sam Messina nor church secretary Robin Ridge had ever heard of Online Local Yellow Pages, much less authorized the church placing an ad with them.

Yet the caller became increasingly insistent that the church pay almost $700 for an “Advance Online Advertising Package.”

Subsequently, Cote went to work, logging telephone contacts between the online advertising company and the church and researching online to learn more about the scam. His work turned up several versions of the brash ruse that has targeted his church.

Among the most interesting is a scam where the caller contacts a business “wishing to confirm the company’s cancellation regarding their service listing,” according to information Cote received from the Spokane, WA Better Business Bureau (BBB).

 When the business owner says, “Yes,” his or her response is recorded. Later, when the business has received bills for online advertising it has not authorized, the company — in this case it was “Regional Yellow Pages Online” — uses the recorded “Yes” to try to convince the business that it said “Yes” to buying the advertisement in the first place.

BBB sources noted that some businesses pay the bills to avoid the threatened legal hounding, but it urged consumers who receive suspicious bills to file a complaint with BBB ( or the Federal Trade Commission ( Mississippi victims can call the Attorney General’s office ( or 800-281-4418). In Batesville, victims can contact security specialist Norm Cote, 563-2601.

Never before have there been so many scams nor, apparently, have there been so many unwitting victims.
What your mother cautioned you, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” works also, in the case of bills for unordered online advertising, when flipped: “If it sounds untrue, it probably ain’t so.”