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Companies of all sizes continue to fall prey to business supply scams

April 3, 2000
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Office supply fraud is one of the most significant business-to-business telemarketing frauds according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Estimates are that telemarketing fraud is costing the legitimate toner industry $100 million in retail sales.

“Operation Misprint,” a multi-agency effort, is cracking down on bogus office and maintenance supply telemarketing schemes targeting large and small businesses. Ten cases were announced recently by the FTC following issuance of court orders directed at ending these allegedly fraudulent operations.

“Fraudulent telemarketing calls are as common at the workplace as they are at home,” said Jodie Bernstein, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, “and they’re costing American business big money.

“The FTC and its enforcement partners are shutting down office supply scams and helping businesses recognize the telltale signs of a telemarketing fraud. But in the end, the best protection against an office supply rip-off is to assign purchasing decisions to designated staff.”

In the 10 cases announced, the defendants allegedly sold non-durable office supply products, including laser printer and photocopier toner. According to the FTC, the bogus outfits placed calls to businesses using a variety of deceptive techniques to get the name and address of the right person to list on the invoice.

Some scammers said they were calling to inquire about the type of supplies the business uses; some implied that the defendants had done business with the company before, and that they were calling to offer a special sale or to resupply stock.

In one case, the defendants allegedly sold their remanufactured toner cartridges as “new” cartridges made by reliable manufacturers. They made false “extended life” and “print quality” claims and used misleading promises, such as “free trial kit” and “no obligation to pay,” and then shipped their toner and demanded immediate payment at prices substantially higher than retail prices for new cartridges.

Most of the cases involve the sending of unordered merchandise followed by invoices that charged dramatically inflated prices for the products.

When victims of the scam complained that they did not order the merchandise or complained about the cost of the merchandise, harassing calls and credit threats were sometimes made, the FTC charged.

Typically, when victims tried to return unordered goods, they were told they would have to pay substantial “restocking” fees and shipping costs.

Tips from the FTC for avoiding office supply scams include:

  • Know your rights. If you receive supplies or bills for services you didn’t order, don’t pay and don’t return the unordered merchandise. You may treat unordered merchandise as a gift.
  • Assign designated buyers and document your purchases.
  • Check your documentation before paying bills.
  • Train your staff.

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