In Your Corner: Deceptive Advertising?

By Ryan Elijah

September 24, 2010 Updated Sep 24, 2010 at 7:58 AM EDT

Most business owners are used to seeing bills arrive asking for payment, but some have recently found you need to be careful before paying what might not be a bill at all.

An invoice arrived at Pine Hills Learning Place with a balance of $349 dollars and even had an account number. The Yellow Pages logo convinced their director even more since Pine Hills does advertise in the yellow pages.

"I saw the logo and the amount and I thought I've got to pay this", said Ingram.

If you turn the invoice over and read carefully on the back, you'll find the declaration that it is indeed not a bill, but a solicitation. Pine Hills didn't pay the invoice and has no relationship with American Digital Networks, based in Maryland. The Better Business Bureau says the invoice is clearly deceptive.

"nobody has deemed that it is illegal at this point, but illegal, deceptive, absolutely", said Mike Coil with the Better Business Bureau.

The BBB received complaints about deceptive advertising concerning American Digital Networks back in 2006, but they died down until more recently. The company does have an "F" rating from the bureau, but they have a limited number of complaints.

It's important to note that US postal regulations require that an invoice that is actually a solicitation have a clear disclaimer. We contacted ADN Media and they told us that their mailer does and they also told us they don't agree with how the BBB handles complaints.

ADN Media says they are being penalized for not responding to BBB complaints and they encourage customers to contact them directly. What makes this mailing legal are these words on the envelope... "Invitation to Participate" and "intended for your marketing department".

While it may be legal, the mailer is clearly designed to resemble a bill.

Deb Ingram said, "we receive a lot of bills and that's a lot of money".

"The company has the right to enforce that, but I think if it went to a court of law, I don't think it would stand up", said Mike Coil.

This mailer is the latest reminder to examine every invoice very carefully, even the BBB received one recently from a not-for-profit group.

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