Tourism societies in the Okanagan are warning their members they are unaffiliated with a website sending unsolicited invoices to businesses seeking hundreds of dollars.
A variety of restaurants and tourism-related businesses in the region have been receiving invoices from an unknown entity called “Tourism Okanagan.”
Edgar Schroeder of the Shades on Main Restaurant in Penticton received one, seeking $365.40 for an annual subscription on the Tourism Okanagan website.
“After I reviewed the invoice, I was thinking, I don’t even remember signing up for this,” he said.
The site appears to be operating as a directory for restaurants and activities in the region, charging $348 plus tax for an annual listing. The site, however, contains numerous long-closed restaurants — suggesting few have paid to be listed.
TourismOkanagan.ca contains no contact info beyond an email address, which did not respond to questions from Castanet. The site also contains numerous spelling errors, such as “Pentiction.”
The return address on the invoice is a PO box in Kelowna and an included GST number was not able to be verified by the federal government’s online portal.
On Wednesday afternoon, Travel Penticton sent out a notice to its members advising them they have no affiliation with the website “nor do we endorse participation on this website.”
Tourism Kelowna has also sent out a similar message to its members.
Travel Penticton projects manager Jo Charnock said they’ve heard from multiple businesses in Penticton as well as Osoyoos that have received the unscrupulous invoices.
“I have no idea where it came from. We are kind of baffled,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s one of those things where they are just sending a bunch out and see if anyone bites, but it’s very dodgy.”
She added Travel Penticton doesn’t allow third-party access to its member base. It’s not clear where the website acquired all the data for the more than 1,300 businesses it has listed online, or if it was scraped from other platforms such as TripAdvisor or Google.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre lists “directory scams” as common online, describing it as businesses receiving “an invoice for a directory, publication or listing that they did not order or authorize.”
The anti-fraud centre recommends businesses compile a list of companies/suppliers that are typically used and give a small number of employees approval to pay bills.