Fined and convicted – Amanda Stichbury & Special Days Pty Ltd false billing scam

Over the years, a significant number of businesses in Australia, including accommodation and tourism operators, have received unsolicited bills in the mail for advertising they never ordered.   This is known as “false billing” and its aim is to trick businesses into paying money.  It is similar to someone unexpectedly turning up at your door with a bag of goods and requesting that you pay for it, even though you didn’t place an order.

A group of companies that are based in Queensland – Special Days Pty Ltd, Accommodation Find Pty Ltd and Internet Find Pty Ltd – have set up a large number of Australian travel tourism websites, as well as websites covering industries such as child care, education, churches, accountancy and entertainment.  The director of those companies is Amanda Stichbury and a significant number of business listings featured on her company’s websites were never ordered by the business owner.  Many business owners first learn about their listings on those websites when they receive a document that looks similar to a bill, with payment instructions.  Due to the fact some businesses are listed without their knowledge on multiple websites, there are some business owners who end up receiving many separate documents that resemble bills, causing them confusion and even distress.

Special Days Pty Ltd and Accommodation Find Pty Ltd have published a number of websites that specifically  relate to the tourism industry in Victoria including:

  • VicTourism – www.victourism.com.au (see our post about VicTourism)
  • AccommodationVIC – www.accommodationvic.com.au (see our post about AccommodationVIC)
  • Holiday Great Ocean Road – www.holidaygreatoceanroad.com (see our post about HolidayGreatOceanRoad)

The Checkout is a consumer affairs show produced by the ABC.  It aired a segment on 11th June 2015 about false billing scams, including those perpetrated by Special Days Pty Ltd, Accommodation Find Pty Ltd and Internet Find Pty Ltd. A video of the relevant segment (from series 3, episode 9) can be viewed at https://dl.dropbox.com/s/06ecfueoibuyv8y/FUTube.mp4 which also includes an interview with a recipient of an unsolicited bill sent from their Church Find website.

In terms of prosecution for these sorts of activities, Special Days Pty Ltd, and its director Amanda Stichbury, were fined $18,000 for breaching Australian Consumer Law in regards to an unsolicited invoice issued to Griffith University EcoCentre for advertising on the “Education QLD” website.  The laws breached include:

  1. Assertion of right to payment for unsolicited goods or services (Australian Consumer Law, section 162(3))
  2. Making a false or misleading representation that the person making the representation has a sponsorship, affiliation or approval (Australian Consumer Law, section 151(1)(h))

As well as the monetary fine, Amanda Stichbury was ordered to pay almost $1,600 in professional and court costs.

The Department of Fair Trading also gained recorded convictions against Amanda Stichbury and Special Days Pty Ltd in relation to that matter.

While this is a good result for those businesses who keep receiving unsolicited requests for payment in the post or via email, it appears that Special Days Pty Ltd and its director Amanda Stichbury are still operating their network of websites in question.

The accommodation industry publication, AccomNews, published a special report today, strongly warning businesses to beware of being scammed by bogus invoices. Their special report includes a detailed analysis of the false billing scam perpetrated by Amanda Stichbury and her companies using their network of websites.

Amanda Stichbury, Special Days Pty Ltd
Beware of being scammed – Amanda Stichbury and Special Days Pty Ltd fined and convicted under Australian Consumer Law

 

This is a timely reminder for businesses not to blindly pay any advertising bills they receive, and ensure they really have ordered what they are being invoiced for. It is important for all businesses to maintain a careful record of all advertising arrangements in place and to check all incoming renewal invoices with their records to verify the authenticity and authorisation of those bills.

Businesses also need to carefully look at who is issuing the invoices, as many of Amanda Stichbury’s websites have very similar names to organisations with well-know names, creating confusion between them.  For example, a number of business owners have reported they thought bills from Amanda Stichbury’s Vic Tourism website were directly related to Victoria’s official government organisation Tourism Victoria, and that is certainly not the case.

References and related false billing reports:

Unsolicited emails being sent to industry
Visit Canberra
“…a company by the name of Internet Find Pty Ltd is once again sending unsolicited emails to tourism operators…(for listings on) acttourism.com.au and tourismcanberra.com… Amanda Stichbury, the director of these companies, was fined almost $20,000 earlier this year for breaching Australian Consumer Law…”
http://tourism.act.gov.au/industry-link/2015/09/unsolicited-emails-being-sent-to-industry/

Important notification for tourism operators
Visit Canberra
“…tourismcanberra.com (is) sending an email to an ACT tourism operators requesting payment of a 12 month subscription fee…other State/Territory Tourism Offices have reported similar communications being sent to tourism operators either via email or post…”
http://tourism.act.gov.au/industry-link/2013/01/important-notification-for-tourism-operators/

Warning to A.C.T. tourism operators – Special Days Pty Ltd
Visit Canberra
“…tourism operators across several states and territories are once again being targeted with unsolicited emails requesting them to claim their business listing on a number of directory listing websites…Accommodation Find Pty Ltd, Internet Find Pty Ltd and Special Days Pty Ltd…(we) strongly advise against paying any fees to companies you are unfamiliar with…”
http://tourism.act.gov.au/industry-link/2017/02/warning-to-act-tourism-operators-special-days-pty-ltd/

Why do I keep receiving invoices from Special Days / Internet Find / Accommodation Find / Travel Guide / etc asking for payment?
Australian Tourism Data Warehouse
“…these are scam invoices and should be discarded immediately…Special Days Pty Ltd operate under a variety of names and continue to make contact with ATDW members seeking payment for having a listing on one of their many websites…”
http://atdw.com.au/tourism-operator/operator-support/faq/

Special Report: Beware of being scammed
AccomNews
“..a number of accommodation providers have…(received)…invoices for unauthorised website and advertising listings…complaints have been made to the Department of Fair Trading and it has gained convictions of Special Days P/L and Amanda Stichbury…”
http://www.accomnews.com.au/2015/08/special-report-beware-of-being-scammed/

Unauthorised website listings worry resorts
AccomNews
“…receiving invoices for unauthorised website listings…invoices, overdue notices and reminders for one accommodation provider dating back to 2009…letter of demand that threatened legal action if the amount claimed was not paid…complaints have been made to the Department of Fair Trading…”
http://www.accomnews.com.au/2014/03/unauthorised-website-list-ings-worry-resorts/

Important News From Tourism Victoria
Mornington Peninsula Regional Tourism
“…some Victorian tourism operators are receiving a letter from victourism.com.au, together with an invoice asking for payment of a 12 month listing…victourism.com.au and Vic Tourism are not related in any way to Tourism Victoria…”
http://industry.visitmorningtonpeninsula.org/NewsEvents/LatestNews/TabId/618/ArtMID/1589/ArticleID/14/Important-News-From-Tourism-Victoria.aspx

Vic Tourism scam
Travel Daily
“…a dodgy letter and invoice…seeking payment for a 12-month listing on a Vic Tourism website…the letter is a scam…”
http://www.traveldaily.com.au/news/vic-tourism-scam/149814

Dodgy invoices in Qld
Travel Daily
“…shonky invoices are being sent from Queensland Tourism… payments for an annual website listing on QLDTourism.com are sought, which are not legitimate…”
http://www.traveldaily.com.au/news/dodgy-invoices-in-qld/172163

South Australian Tourism Commission invoice scam alert
Travel Daily
“…unsolicited bills for a listing on southaustraliatourism.com.au…which come from a business confusingly called South Australia Tourism…”
http://www.traveldaily.com.au/news/satc-invoice-scam-alert/215638

Scams and Frauds
Hosted Accommodation Australia Ltd
“…invoices…seeking payment for the amount of $99 for listing on websites which started with the word accommodation…the listings were not authorised…this is a fraudulent practice…lodge a complaint to the Office of Fair Trading…”
http://www.hostedaccommodationaustralia.com.au/news/Scams-and-Frauds.aspx

Fraudulent Invoices
Hosted Accommodation Australia Ltd
“…invoices are again being sent to members throughout Australia seeking payment for the amount of $99 for listing on websites which are registered to a company named Special Days Pty Ltd…if you have not authorised a listing for your business then the charge is fraudulent…”
http://www.hostedaccommodationaustralia.com.au/news/Fraudulent-Invoices.aspx

Warning Notification to NSW Tourism Operators
Destination NSW
“…carefully check any invoices relating to instances of this domain,
www.accommodationnsw.com.au…”
http://www.destinationnsw.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Digital-FAQs-2013-14x.pdf

Important update – warning notification
Destination NSW
“…have received several complaints…requesting payment for product listings featured on www.newsouthwalestourism.com…(it) is not part of the Destination NSW greater distribution network…if you have received an invoice from this company, simply disregard it…”
http://www.portstephenstourism.com.au/important-update-warning-notification-nsw-tourism-operators/

Important Advice
eTourism
…an email requesting renewal of a subscription for etourismaustralia.com…
http://www.etourism.com.au/news/important-advice-etourismaustraliacom/20

Special Days Pty Ltd – scammers
Alligator Creek Bed & Breakfast
“…alerting you to a scam…received a letter and tax invoice for $99…”
https://www.facebook.com/alligatorcreekbandb/posts/444330738965127

Received a remittance advice from Internet Find Pty Ltd
Adrian’s Autos
“…never requested to be on this site (Internet Find)…be careful you don’t pay invoices you never requested…”
https://www.facebook.com/adriansautos/posts/804666259631467

Another scam invoice from QLD Tourism
Sandgate Historical Society
“…Amanda Stichbury, please note that we will not be paying this one either…we hope the QLD Department of Justice and the ACCC come calling very soon…”
https://www.facebook.com/sandgatehistorical.soc/posts/500520660004764

Be wary of SouthAustraliaTourism.com.au
The Original Open Market Inc
“…that web site is duping people by the almost exact name…(we) fell for it and got billed for a listing on their site…”
https://www.facebook.com/originalopenmarket/posts/906162669405971

Scam alert – beware!
Hahndorf Hill Winery
“…please note that this (request for confirmation and payment for a website listing) is NOT from the South Australian Tourism Commission…”
https://www.facebook.com/HahndorfHillWinery/posts/1213582885335063

Warning Notification to NSW Tourism Operators
Randwick City Tourism
“…several complaints from tourism operators in relation to tax invoices requesting payment for product listings featured on www.sydneytourism.com.au…these websites have no affiliation with Destination NSW nor do their parent companies Accommodation Find Pty Ltd, Internet Find Pty Ltd and Special Days Pty Ltd…if you have received an invoice from any of these websites, please do not pay it…”
https://www.facebook.com/randwickcitytourism/posts/1181937995174938

Complaints from tourism operators
Goulburn River Valley Tourism
“…complaints from tourism operators in relation to emails from Victoria Tourism asking to review business details on their website – www.victoriatourism.com.au…this website has no affiliation with Visit Victoria nor do their parent companies Accommodation Find Pty Ltd, Internet Find Pty Ltd and Special Days Pty Ltd…if you have received an invoice or an email from any of these websites, please disregard it…”
https://www.facebook.com/goulburnrivervalleytourism/posts/1402717523085659

Warning
Queensland Tourism Industry Council
“…industry operators received hoax invoices from ‘Qld Tourism’ website…”
https://twitter.com/TheQTIC/status/687502431924674560

Warning: Hoax Email From Qld Tourism
HiRUM Software Solutions
“…some Gold Coast Tourism members have received an invoice from an organisation calling themselves Qld Tourism (www.qldtourism.com) for $95…using unapproved photos and content…”
http://www.hirum.com.au/blog/hoax-email-qld-tourism/

False billing scams
The Checkout – ABC TV
“…deliberately misleading and designed to look like an invoice to get people to pay…”
http://www.abc.net.au/tv/thecheckout/episodes/s03ep09.htm

Accommodation Gold Coast – 1300 656 789
Reverse Australia

“…these people are frauds…you get these bills in the mail for advertising you never signed up to…”
http://www.reverseaustralia.com/lookup/1300656789/

Accommodation Find – 1800 199 863
Reverse Australia

“…us and many other businesses received bills for advertising we simply did not sign up or agree to…it’s not fair billing people for stuff they didn’t ask for…”
http://www.reverseaustralia.com/lookup/1800199863/

Warning to all small businesses
Books Alive Bookkeeping
“…there is a company that is putting businesses onto a website without legal permission and then invoicing them for this privilege – www.accountantfind.com.au – it is hard enough with budgeting dollars as it is with companies like this acting illegally…”
https://www.facebook.com/BooksAliveBookkeeping/posts/1145148798842557

22 thoughts on “Fined and convicted – Amanda Stichbury & Special Days Pty Ltd false billing scam”

    1. Hi Sally,

      Thanks for letting us know that Amanda Stichbury and her company Special Days Pty Ltd are still sending out those unsolicited bills for advertising that was never ordered.

      Particularly with everyone so busy in the lead up to Christmas, it is possible that unsuspecting businesses will just pay them without much thought in order to get them out of the way during this crazy time of year.

      And yes, you are right – it seems that being fined and being convicted has not had any impact upon their operations. After all, they probably send out many thousands of these bills out on a regular basis. The revenue from just a few will easily cover their $20,000 fine. Meanwhile hard working small business owners, some struggling to make ends meet, are unwittingly being duped.

      We have received many accounts from business owners who have been caught in this false billing scam.

      One motel owner in Gippsland recounted to us how she recently took over the business, and simply paid the bill from Amanda Stichbury and Special Days Pty Ltd, assuming that the previous owner had a long term advertising arrangement going, which was later discovered not to be the case. Then 6 months after blindly paying the first bill, the new owner received yet another “annual” bill for the same service.

      Another motel owner in Mildura told us how the more she kept paying these advertising bills, the more kept arriving each year, all with very similar names. It got so confusing, she could not recall which ones she signed up for, and which ones were part of a false billing scam.

      It’s also not just about the money. Businesses receiving these unsolicited bills waste time dealing with them – time that could have been better spent taking care of their guests or attending to property maintenance.

      One of the problems here is that many of these unsolicited bills are directed to small business owners who simply don’t have the time, finances or knowledge to pursue Amanda Stichbury and Special Days Pty Ltd through the legal system. The main reason she was convicted and fined was because one of her bills ended up being sent to the Griffith University EcoCentre in Brisbane. Universities usually have their own legal team and finances to match and they quickly saw through the false billing scam being perpetrated and took it to court.

      Obviously small business owners are not going to go to such lengths, particularly as it’s much easier to just toss the $99 bill in the bin. However, we encourage all business owners to report this scam to ACCC via their ScamWatch website at:

      https://www.scamwatch.gov.au/report-a-scam

      Ensure you select the option “False billing” under “Buying & Selling” to classify the type of scam.

      You will also be able to upload a copy of your “false” bill.

      You are welcome to email us a copy of your “bill” too – we can publish it here for you, removing your personal identifying information. That way if someone receives one of those in the mail, they might be able to recognise it.

  1. Have just checked the website – about to send an email & pay the account.
    Almostr all the information listed re our Motel is untrue & incorrect.

  2. Unfortunately that’s always a problem with those websites that create unauthorised accommodation listings and then send bills out for those unsolicited services. The information is created, often through automated means, and it may get quickly out of date, particularly when it comes to email addresses, accommodation facilities, tariffs and photos. This can then cause problems for the accommodation owner and potential guests.

  3. Our micro-business recently received another of these accounts, this time via email and not the usual letter-box delivery. I recognised it was probably the same scam that had been sent to us for years. Fortunately I had the gut-feeling ‘if it doesn’t feel right, don’t pay it’ and I have the good team from a major website provider to thank for this alert.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience with us of receiving unauthorised bills for advertising on the Victoria Tourism website, as run by Accommodation Find Pty Ltd.

      Victoria’s official government tourism organisation is “Tourism Victoria”. What a coincidence that Accommodation Find Pty Ltd is running a website with those exact words swapped around – i.e. “Victoria Tourism”. No doubt very confusing for business owners who are trying to work out exactly who they are dealing with.

      As you mentioned, it now appears that the perpetrators of these false billing scams have switched to sending “bills” via email rather than through the postal service. Obviously a lot cheaper and quicker for them, as they can send many thousands out within a very short time.

      This is certainly a timely reminder for all businesses to check any bills they receive to ensure they are paying for something they have actually ordered and authorised. If in doubt, use Google to search for things like the ABN number, phone number or website name which is listed on the bill. You may be surprised what interesting stuff turns up when you do that!

      1. I suggest that tourism and other operators check every inbox message to make sure it is OK. I realise that there are heaps of busy operators out there, but at least try to pay attention to unfamiliar/uncomfortable messages.

  4. Hi there,
    Thanks for reporting on this scam- I was suspicious when I tried to find out more on the web about “HowLocal”, who billed St John’s Schoolhouse Museum in Canberra $149 on 11th March 2016, for advertising we had not requested. Clearly the page they included in the bill had been copied from a legitimate site, although it was impossible to read the tiny print. I couldn’t open up anything on the internet, and their phone number also failed to respond, At this point I entered the trading name of “Specialdays” and bingo, up came your report!
    Thank-you so much for helping a small museum staffed by volunteers, operating on a small budget.
    Regards, Jennifer Garden

    1. Hi Jennifer,

      Thanks for taking the time to let us know about your experience with Special Days Pty Ltd and the “bill” you received from one of their many websites, howlocal.com.

      The process they appear to be following for howlocal.com is similar to how they operate many of their other websites. That is, they create huge numbers of unauthorised listings, and then they attempt to bill businesses or owners accordingly, despite the fact they never ordered the advertising to begin with. And that’s exactly the process you have described which Special Days Pty Ltd / How Local has followed in trying to get your small museum in Canberra to pay for advertising that was never ordered.

      The howlocal.com website makes these claims:

      • 4,152,263 listings submitted
      • How did my listing get on this website? You would have been contacted by one of our representatives either by phone or email or you may have claimed your listing online.

      Clearly that is not the case with your museum, and we suspect it is also not the case with the other 4 million plus businesses they claim to have an advertising relationship with.

      We are aware of many false billing scams that have been orchestrated by Special Days Pty Ltd, Internet Find Pty Ltd and Accommodation Find Pty Ltd, targeting accommodation providers throughout Australia. What is particularly sad to hear is that these unauthorised bills are now targeting small, community organisations like your museum.

      Your museum is supported by devoted and hard working volunteers, and the generous donations by people who visit the museum. No doubt those people making all those contributions would be very unhappy to learn that there are businesses out there willing to stoop so low as to try and take money from your museum in such an unethical way.

      Congratulations on using Google to investigate further about the origin of the bill you received, and sure enough you discovered pretty quickly it was a false billing scam. Now if everyone who received one of those bills did the same, the organisation behind these false billing scams would quickly go out of business.

      We urge you to report the scam to the ACCC via their online reporting page at:

      https://www.scamwatch.gov.au/report-a-scam

      Select “false billing” as the scam type and upload a copy of your “bill”.

      You are also welcome to email us a copy of the bill you received, so we can add it to the collection we have.

      1. I too have recently received an “invoice” from howlocal.com. It took me quite a while to find the words “This is not a bill” as they have lumped it together with a description of the the website.

        On face value it looks like an invoice. It includes the words “invoice no” and “due date”

        I have followed your advice and reported the scam.

        1. Hi Cindy,

          Thanks for your comment about receiving an invoice from the howlocal.com website, which is one of many websites published by Internet Find Pty Ltd and Special Days Pty Ltd.

          We are not sure if you are aware, but in January this year, the director of those websites and companies, Amanda Stichbury, was fined a further $50,000 by the Southport Magistrates Court after a lengthy investigation by the Office of Fair Trading. See the report at https://blog.travelvictoria.com.au/2017/03/09/queensland-fraudster-amanda-stichbury-fined-yet-again/. We would be interested to know if the invoice you received is dated prior to or after the January 2017 court proceedings.

          In January 2017, the Office of Fair Trading described Amanda Stichbury’s business activities as being “based almost entirely on deception” and also that they “preyed upon time-poor businesses“. Despite the court noting that Amanda Stichbury “did not appear apologetic”, she still pleaded guilty to a total of 166 charges, which we suspect is just the tip of the iceberg based on the number of reports and complaints that have been surfaced about her activities.

          You are welcome to send us a copy of the “invoice” you received, so we can publish it here to help others if they receive a similar one.

  5. Jennifer, I’m glad that you noticed the dodgy invoice. It pays to be very careful with all mail and check all details. Best wishes for the continued success of your museum!

  6. This is still happening. I received an invoice from them today for Preschool advertising that was not requested, having ignored several previous ones

    1. Hi Kim,

      Thanks for letting us know that Amanda Stichbury and her companies (Special Days, Accommodation Find, Internet Find Pty Ltd) are still sending out invoices to businesses for advertising they never ordered. It appears the fine and conviction they copped has not resulted in them changing the way they operate.

      In the past, these unauthorised invoices have been sent to accommodation properties, churches, mechanics, childcare centres, tourist attractions and universities. It looks like these false billing scams are targeting pre-school centres at the moment, so we appreciate your heads up on this.

      If you still have a copy of the invoice you were sent, please feel free to email it to us and we can publish it here (with your personal details removed) so that other people who receive something similar can see what it’s all about.

      We encourage you to report the incident to the ACCC’s ScamWatch department at:

      https://www.scamwatch.gov.au/report-a-scam

      Specify the scam type as “false billing” which is under the “buying & selling” section.

  7. Regretfully, we are also still receiving invoices from these people. We recently received two identical invoices for $95.00 dated 5 July 2016. We previously wrote to them on the 23 December 2015, advising them that we were aware that their-then claim for moneys was a scam, but they have not heeded our request to be removed from their mailing lists. We did, however, check today to see if they had listed us on their website, but there was no listing, despite the more recent claims for payment. We note the advice to send a copy of the invoices to Scamwatch, which we will gladly do now. I will also try to forward a copy to Travel Victoria. They truly need to be shut down once and for all.

    1. Hi Terry & Penny,

      Thanks for your comment.

      It is certainly disappointing to hear that Special Days Pty Ltd, Accommodation Find Pty and Internet Find Pty Ltd are still conducting the unethical practise of sending out bills to accommodation providers for advertising which has not been ordered.

      It is particularly worrying in your case because you have advised them to stop sending unsolicited bills, yet they are still coming – in duplicate! This is something that ScamWatch and the ACCC would be particularly interested in.

      Even more serious is that you mentioned the listing that you have been “billed” for simply does not exist.

      We are really pleased that you have identified the “invoice” you have received as being an unsolicited bill for something that was not authorised – it’s what the ACCC classify as a typical “false billing scam”.

      What we have seen happen with some people, which is really disappointing, is when someone new takes over a business and all these unsolicited bills arrive. The poor new owners may simply assume the bills are for an ongoing business relationship the previous owners had and that those bills need to be paid. However, mixed in with those false billing scam invoices are legitimate advertising bills, making it rather overwhelming for new owners to work out what is real and what is not.

      Spread the word about these scams. Sometimes general awareness by others is the only way these things may eventually get stopped.

      1. Thank you for your speedy reply. We agree fully with your comments and confirm that we have advised ScamWatch of the details. Hopefully, more business owners will become aware of all these scammers and fewer will be caught. Unfortunately, they seem to devote a great deal of time and effort to get hold of the rewards of honest business people’s efforts.

    1. Hi Rick,

      Thanks for bringing to our attention about the fact that Special Days Pty Ltd / Internet Find Pty Ltd have also extended their business to cover dentists.

      Unsolicited or false billing scams are a serious issue for businesses, particularly when those invoices or letters can be confused with originating from regulating or professional bodies. In those cases, they can be mistakenly paid either because they are perceived to be compulsory, or they are a renewal of an existing licensing arrangement.

      In the past, Special Days Pty Ltd and Internet Find Pty Ltd have sent out unsolicited letters or emails to businesses which resemble invoices. We would be particularly interested to see the documentation that they are sending to dentists. Feel free to email us a copy.

      In the meantime, we encourage you to report the incident to the ACCC’s ScamWatch department at:

      https://www.scamwatch.gov.au/report-a-scam

      Specify the scam type as “false billing” which is under the “buying & selling” section.

    1. Hi Jeff,
      It’s disappointing to hear that the false billing scam by Special Days Pty Ltd is still continuing with their new website hotelfind.com.au. Please lodge a complaint to Fair Trading in Queensland at:
      http://www.fairtrading.qld.gov.au/lodge-your-complaint
      They would be quite interested, given they have already prosecuted Amanda Stichbury and her companies in court previously. Also, please email us a copy of the invoice – send it to info AT travelvictoria.com.au.

Leave a Reply