WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA) -- It started as soon as church secretary, Debbie Vincent, picked up the phone.
"They said we're trying to update our records," says the United Baptist Church secretary.
Vincent says the voice on the other end was from Yellow Pages Online.net, and the representative asked a series of questions.
"Who's the pastor, address, email, our telephone number and they said well let me pass you on to a supervisor to confirm what we just talked about," says Vincent.
They asked her to confirm the information on the New Carrollton church with a simple "yes."
"Well they got their yes, but in the wrong place," Debbie Vincent says.
"January, I get an invoice, ahh, stating that we're delinquent for this payment for Yellow Pages Online. I said, we never subscribed to that," says Steven Saville.
They never agreed to the nearly $600 fee that Yellow Pages Online.net claimed they owed for advertising.
But when Saville, the church treasurer, got them on the line they played back a portion of Debbie's conversation. A conversation that made it appear that she had agreed to pay for that service.
According to the Better Business Bureau and the Local Search Association, which represents legitimate Yellow Pages publishers, here's how the scheme works.
Once the business verifies its information with Yellow Pages Online.net they get a bill in the mail. When the business challenges those charges, the Yellow Pages Online.net representative claims they got a verbal agreement over the phone for the billing, and they play back a spliced audio version of the conversation, making it sound like the business really did say "yes" to authorizing the charges.
WUSA anchor and consumer correspondent Lesli Foster asks Saville, "When you listened to it, did you think, maybe she did agree to it?"
"When I heard it, it sounded legitimate. It sounded like Debbie did say yes," Saville says.
Same playbook, different victim. This time in Woodbridge, Virginia. Tammy DaSilva's Varsity Graphics and Awards business was hit when her husband picked up the phone.
"Once I heard the recording, I said, well you agreed to something, we'll just pay the bill," DaSilva says.
But, Tammy says her business didn't get a thing for $600.
"I was pretty angry! I was pretty mad 'cause I just didn't think it was right. I mean, you're supposed to help me build my business so people can find me. And, you're scamming me for that," she says.
Local Search Association Bogus Billing
A year later, Yellow Pages Online.net called again to say they were past due on a new bill. Edward Johnson, with the Better Business Bureau, says hundreds upon hundreds of people across the country are getting tangled in this web of deception that uses their own voices against them.
"It's a creative interpretation on the part of the company," says the BBB President and CEO.
And, Johnson says when you try to cancel, the crooks hit you up for more.
"In this particular complaint, the cancellation fee was $499. It's outrageous."
So our WUSA consumer team went to the company's Fairfax, Virgina headquarters to get some answers.
"Is there someone here that represents Yellow Pages?"
"There's nobody here. We are, I guess. They lease from us. This is Regis," says the receptionist.
Yellow Pages Online.net uses the office space, but the woman we talked to says they aren't physically present. The BBB says there are over 650 complaints across the country against this company alone. And, they aren't the only ones using their fingers to try to take money from unsuspecting businesses.
The BBB's Edward Johnson says, "Local Business Yellow Pages has over 700 complaints."
And the number of complaints against Local Business Yellow Pages has grown to 740. The BBB was able to close 738 of them. But the high volume of problems earned them an "F" rating.
Yellow Pages Online.net now has 674 complaints, of that number, 668 cases were closed. They also have a failing grade.
United Baptist Church fought those Yellow Pages Online.net charges and got their money back.
Varsity Graphics and Awards lost their first $600, but when Yellow Pages Online.net billed Tammy DaSilva a second time, she threatened to report them to the authorities. They dropped the charges.
The church and the business want to make sure you don't get taken by six simple words, "We're trying to update our records," that can balloon into hundreds of dollars in unauthorized charges.
Debbie Vincent says, "Now I know it's a clue to say thank you very much. Our records haven't changed. Have a nice day."
Local Search Association
To prevent this from happening, do what Debbie wishes she'd done. If you hear a company say, "We're trying to update our records," hang up the phone.
We called and emailed Yellow Pages Online.net, but were not able to reach the owners.
FTC Action Against 'Fake Yellow Pages'
U.S. Postal Inspection Service
National Association of Attorneys General
The Federal Trade Commission says they don't have any complaints against the two companies we mentioned in the story. But, they have taken legal action against other fake Yellow Pages businesses who used similar tactics.