|By Product Category|
By Company Name
Listings of Retailers
Could your organization be a victim of an office supply scam? If you dont have adequate purchasing controls, probably so. Businesses, churches, and fraternal and charitable organizations are being bilked out of millions of dollars by bogus office supply firms. You can protect yourself by learning to recognize the scams and understanding your rights.
The typical office supply scam involves goods or services that you routinely order: copier paper, toner and maintenance supplies, equipment maintenance contracts, or classified advertising. When fraudulent telemarketers call, they often lie to get you to pay for items you didnt order, or to get you to pay more than you agreed to. How? The caller may falsely claim to be your "regular supplier" or to tell you that the offer is "special" or "good for a limited time only." Con artists take advantage of holes in your organizations purchasing procedures or of unsuspecting employees who may not be aware of office practices. Whats worse, the office supplies peddled by these bogus firms often are overpriced and of poor quality; the services usually are worthless.
Once the con artist has an employees name and address, hell ship the unordered merchandise. The phony invoice arrives a week or so after for two reasons: First, the inflated price as much as 10 times what youd pay for the same goods from a legitimate supplier is less obvious if the invoice arrives after the merchandise has been received and stocked. Second, the chances are good that youve used the merchandise before the invoice arrives. Many organizations mistakenly believe that they must return unordered merchandise or pay for unordered merchandise if theyve used it.
A twist on this approach may have the fraudulent seller timing a phony invoice to match your purchase of legitimate services from another vendor. For example, the seller sends you a bill for unordered classified advertising soon after your ad runs in a legitimate publication. The scam operator hopes youll be confused and pay his bill instead of, or in addition to, the one from the legitimate company.
The Pretender Scam
In one variation on this scam, the caller misrepresents the quality, quantity, type, price, or brand name. For example, the ribbons for your IBM typewriters may not be IBM brand ribbons, or the toner for your Xerox copier may not be Xerox brand toner. Some scam artists try to duplicate brand name packaging; others sell half a carton of merchandise at the full-carton price. Similarly, sellers of Yellow Pages advertising may actually represent fly-by-night outfits that distribute few, if any, telephone directories.
In another twist, the caller uses high pressure tactics to rush your purchase decision and dodge questions about price, quantity and brand names. The seller may falsely claim that prices are going up soon, someone was forced out of business, a warehouse is overstocked, or a limited inventory of government surplus is available. Or that a computer glitch delayed notification of a price increase, but, as a courtesy, an order has been reserved for you at the "regular" or "old" price.
Or, the seller may misrepresent the purpose of the call, saying that hes calling to send you a promotional item such as a cordless screwdriver, free samples, or a catalog so youll "think of him next time you order." Or the seller may claim that hes conducting a survey of office equipment or updating company records, leading you to believe that hes the regular or previous supplier. Before hanging up, the caller may mention in passing actual merchandise. "Ill send that screwdriver to you right away ... and while Im at it, Ill throw in a few deodorant blocks." Soon, a shipment arrives, followed by the bill.
The Gift-Horse Scam
After the Invoice Arrives
An organization that pays for unordered goods or services also may be targeted for additional scams. This practice is called "reloading." For example, the seller may send a second shipment of "back ordered" merchandise and another bill, or bills for service upgrades. Additional invoices follow as long as you continue to pay. The con artist also may sell your organizations name to other scam operators, or move to another bogus operation and target you with a new scheme.
Protect Your Organization
The FTCs Telemarketing Sales Rule offers additional protections in business-to-business sales of non-durable office or cleaning supplies and most sales of goods or services to individuals, groups, or associations. The Rule requires telemarketers to tell you its a sales call and whos doing the selling before they make their pitch. They must tell you the total cost of the products or services theyre offering, any restrictions on getting or using them, and that a sale is final or non-refundable before you pay. Its illegal for telemarketers to misrepresent any information, including facts about the goods or services being offered.
Buy from people you know and trust. Authorized employees should be skeptical of "cold" or unsolicited calls and feel comfortable saying "no" to high pressure sales tactics. Legitimate companies dont pressure you to make a snap decision. Finally, consider asking new suppliers to send a catalog first.