My New Worst Business Ever: YP

YP is the modern name for what used to be the Yellow Pages.  Obviously, yellow pages are a dying business.  Ten years ago the Phoenix Yellow Pages had to be broken up into two books, each a couple inches think.  I happened to see one the other day, and it was the size of a short novel.  They tried to move to the web, but who goes to (vs. google or Yelp) to find a business?

Even in the glory days of yellow pages, it was always hard to cancel their service.  If you did not tell them by like August, they would start billing you for the next year and sic a collection agency on you if you disputed it.

However, it appears that now that YP is a dying business, and knows that each lost customer will likely never be replaced, it has turned into the Hotel California.

In 2013, I left a location in Ventura County.   We had advertised in the Yellow Pages for years (back when it made sense) and had never been able to cancel it in time -- by the time we remembered it each year it had already auto renewed.   Soon after we left, I notified them that we needed to cancel.  At the time, I tried to negotiate a reduction in the 2014 charges but figured I probably would have to pay them, which I did.

Then, in 2015 I started getting bills.  I called each month patiently explaining and sending letters that we had already cancelled.  They would say that they had no record of my ever calling, but they swore they would mark the account as closed and that it would be fixed.  Then the next month it would all repeat -- a bad customer service Groundhog Day.

Finally this week I started getting legal threats and collection agency notices that I owe $499 for 2015 and that my life would be left in ruins with the ground salted if I did not pay immediately.  So I called today and AGAIN they had no record of my cancelling -- in fact, it was on a path to renew again for 2016.

Look, I am the first to tell folks to never chalk up to conspiracy what can as easily be explained by mass incompetence.  But at some point one has to suspect there is fraud going on here to retain customers as long as possible for a dying service.

So here is what I am left with -- I found someone in their organization who may be willing to settle my non-debt for non-services for a couple of hundred.  I told them this was absurd, since I did not owe it, but that I would pay a couple hundred dollars if they would give me a letter that said the account is closed and fully settled.  From the outside, this may seem a bad trade.  But I have enough lawyers in my life and hiring lawyers would be the only way to solve this any other way.  And besides, $200 is cheap compared to the thousands of dollars of my personal time I have spent farting with this.

Update 9/27/15:  God, this is Groundhog Day!  YP said that I should send a certified letter to such and such address to make absolutely sure that my account was cancelled.  I sent it to that exact address, braving a 30-minute line at the post office to do so.   So of course, the letter just came back undeliverable.  I have held off saying this, but these guys are total scam artists.  They seem to have no intention of ever letting me leave.


  1. vikingvista:

    On just about any other blog, the punchline of the story would be "there should be a law!" with a description of the kind of new legislation desperately needed.

    Thank you for not caving in to the new American way and using your encounter with scoundrels to advocate for forcing an eternity of encounters by all of us with even worse scoundrels.

  2. McThag:

    XM radio is likewise difficult to cancel once they have your payment information.

  3. Matthew Slyfield:

    "but who goes to"

    I do. I frequently find a lot of local businesses that don't have an on-line presence, but they are in the YP.

  4. sch:

    I have begun to use one time CC numbers for subscriptions that I may not want to renew in order to
    prevent auto renewal. A bit of a hassle if you do want to renew though.

  5. Daublin:

    What YP is doing is already illegal. That, of course, never stops calls for new laws.

    I don't know what the best recourse is in a case like this. My first instinct would be to simply not pay them, and wait for their move. Sending letters and making phone calls is cheap. Are they willing to get into legal action and/or a collection agency over this? Without having any evidence that you actually owe the money?

  6. SamWah:

    Make sure you get a copy of the cancellation letter first. Insist, as they've been untrustworthy much too long for you to give them benefit of any doubt.

  7. MNHawk:

    They were so hard to cancel, I never even bother with my free months, when buying a new car.

    Never again.

  8. obloodyhell:

    }}} it has turned into the Hotel California.

    This is not new. This is the same old incompetence the Bell system has always had.

    When I was in college in the late 70s in Orlando, someone tried to reach me by looking up my name in the white pages. They found it, oddly enough (the name is fairly unusual), despite the fact that I'd NEVER had a phone in Orlando.

    The number they'd found was my mother's old number, which had been in there collecting dust for more than 5 years since we'd moved away from there , and I'd gone back to college there. In short they hadn't purged their listings of old numbers for more than 5 years -- and this is UNPAID white page listings.

    Also of relevance, was my mother owning a business with advertising in the yellow pages. She retired about 15 years back, but continued to get calls from people finding the single-line business listing in the yellow pages for more than 7 years afterwards, even though she wasn't paying them for a business line any longer (she'd turned the old number into her cell phone number, which has been in our family since the 50s)

    So I think you're attributing to avarice and malice what can be readily attributed to stupidity and incompetence...

  9. vikingvista:

    It is definitely a problem worth publicizing and trying to solve.

    But if you weigh the problems you suffer from private entities, including overtly criminal enterprises, to the problems you suffer at the hands of governmental institutions, the scale would break in favor of the former. Unfortunately, going to government to solve your private disputes is like going to the mafia--they may get that particular job done for you, but in the long run they will make you pay 10000 fold. You are best off avoiding them whenever possible.

    At least with YP, the suffering that lingers from past voluntary relationships will be limited, as YP will soon be gone, provided governmental agencies allow market forces to work. When can you ever say the same about a government (which of course doesn't afford you a voluntary relationship to begin with)?

  10. Matthew Slyfield:

    "So I think you're attributing to avarice and malice what can be readily attributed to stupidity and incompetence..."

    And the reason it can't be all of the above is?

  11. Shane:

    Ironically Phoenix is where I first learned true evil when it comes to dealing with people. It seems as though the whole city's job is to fleece newbs and hang them out to dry. I realize your issue was with YP who is national and specifically your CA based operation, but I wanted to say that about Phoenix because I lost all naivete in that city. I learned that people can and will steal hurt and destroy for hardly anything and if you want to survive you need to learn how to not let people do that to you. I opened my first business in Tempe and set up phone service. I used US West (??) and told them for a long distance carrier I wanted anything but ATT because my experience was so bad with them. I went on and on with the salesperson about my horrible experience and chose MCI as my carrier. During the first month before my first bill I made a local long distance call. When I got my bill I was shocked to learn that ATT was my long distance carrier and that they were charging me $2 per minute for my call. I called US West and told them to change it ... they wouldn't. I tried to call ATT and there was literally no way to get a hold of them. I had to email and shockingly they wouldn't back off. I finally found an way to get a code that I could enter to try to talk to ATT. It had a 1 hour shelf life. Still wouldn't back down. That said (TL;DR)

    I learned that just because someone sends you a piece of paper in the mail that says you owe them something doesn't mean anything. Collections finally called me I told the person to come get the fucking money if they thought that they could. It was about $600. After about 2 of these exchanges they stopped calling. I learned possession is 9/10's of the law. I don't know if it went down on my permanent record, I don't care. Turns out there was a class action suit against ATT and US West for what they did about 5 years later. Money brings out the worst in people and in my new business I am acutely aware of that. I have written off about everything and I am really never upset about the stupid that is the human race when dealing with money and business. I expect it and that leaves me pleasantly surprised when it doesn't happen.

  12. Maximum Liberty:

    I thought YELP was short for YELlow Pages. No?

  13. Shane:

    Nope YP is yellow pages. Yelp is one of those crazy dotcom names, like Amazon or Google etc ...

  14. tex:

    We don't need new laws but one would be good, i.e. “loser pays” so with a carefully documented request to cancel (registered letters, etc), one could ignore the likes of YP and let 'em sue with their loss having to pay all atty fees & court costs. Most of the world uses loser pays as one European friend told me it keeps trivial suits out of court.

    I don't know if it is by state or Federal, but, years ago (I have not checked in a long time) for claims under $x ($5K?) an individual could represent himself while a business had to be represented by an atty. When the business was clearly in the wrong (or even right for that matter) it cost a business quite a lot to enter Small Claims court with an individual.

  15. esoxlucius:

    I don't get it. If you signed up for the service as a business who cares that you owe them money? What, are they going to turn you in to D&B? Big deal. Tell them to cram it, or keep advertising for all you care. They can't ding your personal credit rating if they don't know you, your connection to the company or think you're some middle manager.

  16. Carl Crabkiller:

    Whenever I phone a business concerning billings, cancellations , any dispute - I state "This call will be recorded for verification purposes". I state my name, number I am calling from and the date then ask them if they have a problem with my recording them.

  17. HoratiusZappa: the listing actually there for the time for which they want to bill you?

  18. marque2:

    Usually Google will provide you with their phone number and address. My "company" is just a filing with the state, we don't do business with it, yet you can find it via Google, with our home phone number.

  19. herdgadfly:

    Its the commission system - hello! Some lazy sales rep signs you up for renewal, processes the paperwork and follows up his accounts by filtering out the bad actions such as cancellations. And if you are a particularly stupid customer, you miss the added features that expand colors, sizes and number of sub-listing categories you are newly enrolled under.

    Every new guy gets the same training from the dishonest pros which legitimizes the illegitimate.

  20. herdgadfly:

    The first lesson to be learned by businesses who use the Yellow and White pages (for the sake of illiterate computer users) is that you do not buy directly from the multiple publishers in every nook and cranny in the world. Instead you work with a CMR (Certified Marketing Representative) firm to manage you ad dollars. If there are screw-ups they get them resolved at no cost to you. And they can maximize exposure at discounted rates beyond those offered by the publishers.

  21. Matthew Slyfield:

    Yeah, and half the time that that is all you get, google has found their entry or a mention on a local community site.

  22. Mondak:

    Roadrunner Sports sells memberships that allow you to get cheaper shoes. Then they renew the membership automatically. When you call to cancel, the try to retain you with lots of stories etc. After getting through all that, the representative will tell you they are sorry to see you go, but you are now canceled.
    I asked for a confirmation, but was told they don't do that. No worries though. It is canceled. Three months later: renewal fee on credit card.


  23. DerKase:

    I don't know the answer to this, I'm just wondering. Is it possible to tell your credit card company "a charge from XYZ Company is never legit. Do not honor a charge from XYZ." If that can be done, it should end auto-renews.

  24. marque2:

    I have yet to see a yp listing when i search for a place on Google. My company is probably garnered from state filing records

  25. Magua1952:

    I had a similar problem while trying to get rid of a Yellow Pages listing. Finally I just stopped paying and my credit record showed the account in collections. When I applied for a mortgage the loan underwriter disregarded that item in approving me for the loan. Apparently so many people have Yellow Pages collection records that they are forced to do that. I had to write an explanatory letter.
    I do miss the great yellow volume when I have to locate local services such as plumbers, windshield installers and so on. These can be found on Google but it is time consuming to sort through and one never finds as many contractors, or those closest to home. Two steps forward, three steps back.

  26. Magua1952:

    Experiment: I just tried to look for windshield replacement companies. In my large county there are 278. Google has 200 links but most were not local companies although I specified the county in my search. There were you tube instructions for fixing your own and a whole lot of extraneous stuff. I might try in the future but would never advertise with them again.

  27. FelineCannonball:

    I know you hate lawyers, but this why class action suits exist. Making small fraud to the nth power painful.

    Maybe we do need tort reform, making frivolous stuff more painful too, but a legitimate class-action suit should be able to move forward.

  28. John O.:

    Most big search engines now collect records from the state and local governments for new or updated businesses. They often have a nice big contract with a government records search service that also process background checks on individuals.

  29. obloodyhell:

    Not if they have the attorneys on retainer, then the attorney is already getting their time paid for, whether they are harassing you or wanking away in their wood paneled penthouse corner office.

  30. obloodyhell:

    ...But yes, almost as obnoxious.

  31. obloodyhell:

    "Evil has limits. Stupidity is not thus encumbered."

    It could be all, but Occam's Razor applies to all things. Don't assume more complex motivations than the evidence supports.

  32. obloodyhell:

    Yup. find some cheap shyster attorney who wants to take on a class action suit for harassment purposes... a John Edwards clone, in other words.

  33. obloodyhell:

    Yeah, I need legitimate addresses for software testing purposes. So I often use "Plumbers" in a chosen city/state, and pull addresses from that -- I don't need legit people names with addresses, just an actual address that the USPS software recognizes as an actual mailing address.... works like a charm. But, along with, both have lots of sources for specific businesses in your area.

  34. obloodyhell:

    This is why Amazon is a great company. No freaking hassles at all, and they help you if you have a problem.

  35. FelineCannonball:

    Send this lawyer after YP. Not allowing cancellation is a pretty widespread problem that shouldn't be tolerated.

  36. Matthew Slyfield:

    I don't buy the evil has limits. Evil is every bit as unlimited as stupidity.

    Jealousy, hate, greed; these are very simple, primal motivations, nothing at all complex about them.

  37. Daniel Barger:

    They won. They got $$$ from you without providing a service. And by paying them off their is NO GUARANTEE they won't be back next year doing the EXACT SAME THING TO YOU. They have been incentivized to continue this fraudulent activity.