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Lawyers called to stump scammers

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A Queensland medical practice has been forced to threaten legal action in the face of escalating demands for payment from purported directory services after the consumer watchdog refused to intervene.

In the latest example of directory scams targeting the health industry, Doctors @ Wellington Point practice in Queensland has paid out more than $2200 for directory listings it did not ask for, and is resisting demands for payment of a further $2995.

Practice manager Shenae Trotter told Australian Medicine that since the start of the year the business had received demands for payment from three organisations claiming to operate directory services.

Ms Trotter said the practice paid $1094.50 to a group called the Corporate Directory of Australia and $2194.50 to the Australian Telephone Directory, but had baulked when it received a demand for $2995 from an organisation called Business Indigenous & Government (BIG) Pages.

“The first two [claims], we just paid them, because we thought we must have done something [to warrant receiving the invoice], even though we never saw any advertising,” she said. “We didn’t realise anything about these scams until the Medicare Local sent out an alert.”

In May, AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton alerted AMA members about a similar scam in which medical practices were being charged up to $5200 for listing in the Australasian Health Professionals Directory.

Under the scam, practices were initially approached to update their details in the directory without an upfront charge. But the fine print of the contract stipulated that listing cost $1300 a year for a minimum of three years.

Dr Hambleton warned that this was a well-established strategy used by scammers to mislead recipients and con them into signing the enclosed contract, before then making demands for payment.

The AMA President advised practices that received material spruiking the Directory to ignore it.

In addition to informing its members, the AMA has also alerted the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission as well as Fair Trading offices in each State and Territory.

Ms Trotter said that when the practice contacted the ACCC about the matter, it simply advised it to engage lawyers.

She said that after practice refused to pay BIG Pages it received a stream of threatening faxes and emails threatening legal action.

But Ms Trotter said this stopped abruptly after the practice engaged its own lawyers, who sent a strongly-worded letter challenging claims of liability and threatening to refer the matter to the Australian Federal Police “if you continue to harass our staff”.

“Your repeated harassment and threats to our staff constitute bullying and breaches of other laws, including of Crimes Legislation Amendment (Telecommunications Offences & Other Measures) Act (No. 2) 2004,” the letter said. “Do not send any further correspondence to us, or call our offices.”

The lawyers have instructed Doctors @ Wellington Point staff to cease all communication with BIG Pages.