Customers throw book at service

Provincial Directories (PD) in KwaZulu-Natal use misleading tactics to solicit ads for their online publications, allege Denise Morris of Durbanville and Helen Ward of Melon Properties in Plett.

PD’s agents imply that they represent Trudon, official publishers of Telkom’s directories, the businesswomen said.

PD are also infringing on the trademark of one of South Africa’s listed companies.

Ms Morris, who runs a financial brokerage from home, said when a representative of Cape Provincial Directories called her, she assumed they were checking the details for her annual entry in the telephone directory for which she pays each month through Telkom.

“I signed for an online entry which was a huge mistake as from experience I have no profitable feedback on this kind of advertising. Besides people have to log in to see the ad, it’s a mission, and who would want to bother? It was misleading and is costing me an exorbitant R9 480 for a single entry, and in small print, automatically renewed for two years, unless cancelled. The amount includes so-called artwork which I have seen a thousand times before: a handshake across a desk. While I admit to being gullible, I feel that this is a scam of the worst kind and if you can help me to get out of the deal, I would be grateful,” said Ms Morris.

The home page of provincialdirectories.com boasts logos from Bidvest, DDR (a debt collection agency) and the Indaba (Africa’s Top Travel Show). And the person who answers the phone at PD is most unhelpful and emails go unanswered.

However, through the number Ms Morris supplied I managed to talk to Melissa Abrahams who refused to give her title although she said everyone in the company answered to her. When I asked about Ms Morris and what PD intended to do about it, she repeated, “Everybody in the company is answerable to me. I do not have to answer any of your questions. I will only speak to the client or through the client’s attorney, not to you.”

But she told Ms Morris’s lawyer: “I don’t speak to attorneys, they only mess things up.”

Earlier, Ms Morris told Ms Abrahams that their sales pitch was designed to make people think it was for the Peninsula Directory for Telkom, the heading on the contract which is why she didn’t read it. “When I asked for a copy of the recording she told me they don’t do recordings and because I signed the contract I had to pay.” Although Ms Morris’s attorney advised her not to.

I called Bidvest about their logo on the PD home page. Group Company Secretary, Craig Brighten, said Melon Properties had told them about the Bidvest logo and their trademark attorneys were dealing with it. “Bidvest is not involved with (PD) and the use of the Bidvest logo on their website is an infringement of our trademark and will not be tolerated.”

Lindi Joubert of Melon Properties had much the same experience as Ms Morris. Ms Joubert said they do all their advertising through Trudon who contact them in March every year.

“We approve the ad and then pay. A few days later ‘Swazi’ from PD called Ms Ward to tell her she needed to approve the listing. When Ms Ward said they only work with Trudon, ‘Swazi’ said it was the same thing and after they sent information that Ms Ward signed and returned we were bombarded with phone calls demanding payment. Then we received an invoice from DDR Collections but we could never speak to anyone,” said Ms Joubert, who added it had all the signs of a scam.

Some of the invoices from DDR reflected VAT, others did not and when they could not find proof that DDR was registered for VAT, she reported them to SARS and handed the matter over to their lawyers.

Ms Joubert also called Bidvest who confirmed they had nothing to do with PD or DDR. “We didn’t pay PD anything but I’m sure many people have,” she said.

Trudon own and publish the telephone directories. They print and distribute more than 6.1 million annually and produce in excess of 236 million business referrals.

“Over the years, many of our advertisers have been approached by individuals calling themselves Yellow Pages or Directory Consultants when they are independent consultants who try to persuade you to reduce your Yellow or White Pages costs by advertising with them. They charge you a percentage of the amount they have reduced your advertising by but in effect you are decreasing your exposure which puts you at risk of losing business.

“Other independent consultants create the impression that they are approaching you on our behalf or at our request. They often don’t have correct details and/or pricing structures. We are in no way affiliated to these consultants. We deal with all our customers directly – either telephonically or face-to-face,” said Trudon, who provided a list of 22 businesses who are operating these online ads. Quite a few of them are based in KwaZulu-Natal and when I called some of them they refused to say whether they were connected to PD.

Ms Morris is taking her lawyer’s advice and not paying. “I’m too old to worry about a bad credit record,” she said. Visit www.trudon.co.za to see the list or call their Customer Care Line 0860 086 093 5569 to check.