Central Florida churches targeted by conmen

Callers claim to be affiliated with Yellow Pages

MAITLAND, Fla. - Telephone conmen claiming to represent an online version of the Yellow Pages are recording conversations with unsuspecting church employees then forcing them to pay $599.99 to be listed on something called the Online Public Yellow Pages.

Both the State Attorney General's office and the Better Business Bureau have been alerting consumers and small businesses about the scheme that is now branching out to Churches in Central Florida and across the U.S.

Reverend Sarah Bronos of the Good Shepherd Church In Maitland told Local 6 a caller asked to record a conversation with her church secretary for "training purposes."

Bronos said the secretary, Terry Sims, was recorded agreeing to allow Online Yellow Pages to send an invoice to the church office, but Bronos said Sims never agreed to purchase any listing.

The recorded conversation provided by the company confirms that, but the conmen claim the recording is a "legally binding" contract that compels the church to pay a fee for the listing.

Bronos said she refused to pay because she never authorized it. The caller threatened legal action and continued to send invoices, she said. Still, the church never paid.

Billy Howard, a veteran attorney with the Consumer Office with Morgan and Morgan's Tampa Law office, said there is "no law on the planet" that states a recorded conversation is a legally binding contract.

Bronos called WKMG-TV to expose the scheme.

"There are evidently other churches that are feeling intimidated by this and I think the word needs to get out," Bronos said.

Judy Pepper of the Better Business Bureau said various forms of invoice schemes and telephone intimidation have been showing up in central Florida for years.

"They're going by a script. If there's an objection, they know how to rebut that automatically," Pepper said.

An invoice obtained by WKMG-TV lists a "mini-web page with full company description, webpage link, business hours and driving directions." The same thing can be found on Google at no charge.

To date, church organizations have paid the conmen $44,000.

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