The Yellow Pages may be nowhere as important to Australians as it was a decade ago, but the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) thinks its name still carries a bit of clout.

The Federal Court in Melbourne has imposed penalties totalling $2.7 million against two overseas companies, Yellow Page Marketing BV (YPM) and Yellow Publishing Limited (YPL), for sending thousands of Australian businesses misleading faxes and invoices in an attempt to obtain subscriptions to their online business directories.

The ACCC alleged that between May 2010 and November 2010, YPM and YPL misled thousands of businesses into thinking they were dealing with Sensis Pty Ltd Yellow Pages®, a business well known around Australia. The YPM and YPL companies sent faxes and invoices that contained the words 'Yellow Page' and a 'Walking Fingers' logo.

This is a significant outcome and represents the highest penalty to be handed down since civil pecuniary penalties were introduced as part of the Australian Consumer Law," ACCC Graeme Samuel said.

"These proceedings are a warning to companies both here and overseas that the ACCC will not tolerate this type of conduct and will seek substantial penalties," Mr Samuel said.

In her reasons for judgment, Justice Gordon noted that the traders involved in this directory scam had hectored businesses, demanding payment of invoices and threatening the imposition of late fees.

The court's final orders included:

  • Injunctions restraining YPM and YPL from registering domain names including the words "yellow page/s" in combination with ".au" or the name of a city, state or other location in Australia.
  • All Australian online directory contracts with YPM and YPL were declared void, with no further amounts payable, unless specifically requested by a business to remain in force.
  • cheques subpoenaed from the Commissioner of Police of Western Australia to be delivered to the ACCC. The ACCC will return those cheques to the relevant businesses, and
  • YPM and YPL to pay the ACCC's costs.