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:
- Assertion of right to payment for unsolicited goods or services (Australian Consumer Law, section 162(3))
- 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.
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
“…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…”
Important notification for tourism operators
“…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…”
Warning to A.C.T. tourism operators – Special Days Pty Ltd
“…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…”
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…”
Special Report: Beware of being scammed
“..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…”
Unauthorised website listings worry resorts
“…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…”
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…”
Vic Tourism scam
“…a dodgy letter and invoice…seeking payment for a 12-month listing on a Vic Tourism website…the letter is a scam…”
Dodgy invoices in Qld
“…shonky invoices are being sent from Queensland Tourism… payments for an annual website listing on QLDTourism.com are sought, which are not legitimate…”
South Australian Tourism Commission invoice scam alert
“…unsolicited bills for a listing on southaustraliatourism.com.au…which come from a business confusingly called South Australia Tourism…”
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…”
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…”
Warning Notification to NSW Tourism Operators
“…carefully check any invoices relating to instances of this domain,
Important update – warning notification
“…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…”
“…an email requesting renewal of a subscription for etourismaustralia.com…”
Special Days Pty Ltd – scammers
Alligator Creek Bed & Breakfast
“…alerting you to a scam…received a letter and tax invoice for $99…”
Received a remittance advice from Internet Find Pty Ltd
“…never requested to be on this site (Internet Find)…be careful you don’t pay invoices you never requested…”
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…”
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…”
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…”
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…”
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…”
Queensland Tourism Industry Council
“…industry operators received hoax invoices from ‘Qld Tourism’ website…”
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…”
False billing scams
The Checkout – ABC TV
“…deliberately misleading and designed to look like an invoice to get people to pay…”
Accommodation Gold Coast – 1300 656 789
“…these people are frauds…you get these bills in the mail for advertising you never signed up to…”
Accommodation Find – 1800 199 863
“…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…”
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…”