The phone rings at a small- to mid-sized business, charity, church or community group (favorite targets of office supply scammers known as “Toner Pirates”).
Pleasant Person: Hello, ABC Organization, this is Beth.
Scammer: Good morning, Beth! How are you?
Pleasant Person: Doing well.
Scammer: Excellent! Say, Beth, I’m with XYZ Supplies and am just following up on a recent toner order you placed. I might be able to get you a discount on that.
[Beth can hang up on the scammer now if XYZ Supplies isn’t really the company’s vendor. But let’s say the call keeps going.]
Pleasant Person: Well I’m not sure I -
Scammer: We can even throw in some free bonus ink cartridges that we have overstocked. Who doesn’t want free toner, right Beth? I just need to know the make, model and serial number of your printer to make sure we send you the right free supplies.
[Beth can hang up on the scammer now if her gut is telling her this person sounds fishy. But let’s say the call keeps going.]
Pleasant Person: Um, yeah, OK, it’s an Epson Super Great model, serial number 12345.
Scammer: Excellent! Thanks Beth.
This scenario can begin in many other ways, and take different devious paths once the scammer has breached a company gatekeeper. Typically, supposedly “free” supplies will arrive at the organization (usually lousy supplies), eventually followed by bogus, overinflated invoices for said supplies.
Sometimes an organization pays the bill, due to a lack of clarity about approved vendors and purchasing protocol. Other times, the printer ink scammers resort to high-pressure tactics and litigation threats to force payment on fraudulent orders. It’s sleazy business, but you can be prepared if a Toner Pirate comes a-callin’ at your organization.
The FTC is on your side
First things first, relax if your organization becomes a target of a copier toner scam. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is aware of these pirates and has announced different settlements against companies that send businesses unordered office supplies and follow up with invoices the businesses don’t owe. The FTC’s stipulated orders against the fictitious office supply companies include violations of the Telemarketing Sales Rule and the Unordered Merchandise Statute.
The precedent provides future scam victims with certain protections. First of all, if you receive unordered merchandise, it’s yours. The law says you don’t have to return it and the scammer can’t legally collect on it, even if you used the items before you realized they were unordered. A word of advice on the subject: DON’T use unordered, “free” toner or supplies. The scammers rarely send authentic OEM merchandise. They send cheap junk that isn’t good for your machines.
Your #1 best defense against all this scam nonsense is to train your staff to be on-guard.
Hold a brief staff meeting to go over the red flags that often accompany a scam. Maybe share this blog with them before the meeting to bring everyone up to speed.
Advise your crew that these telemarketing idiots come off as very friendly. They’ll sprinkle in buzzwords like:
- Limited Time
- Act Now
If asked, they won't give you references, or share a business address, or offer to give you any price quotes in writing. Don’t fall for any of it! Keep everyone abreast of who your APPROVED supply vendors are, and if someone calls who’s not on the list, just hang up. To simplify things even more, you can designate an individual person with good “Scam Radar” to handle any suspect calls.
Sometimes these creepy outfits are pretty thorough and do their homework on staff members. They even go so far as to contact people who volunteer at a church or non-profit. They make the unsuspecting person feel like they can really do a favor to their affiliation by scoring some free or discounted supplies. So, alert volunteers about the pitfalls, too.
Check the mail
If an invoice comes in that seems a bit out-of-the-ordinary, investigate it. Don’t pay a dime if the bill is for supplies that your organization didn’t authorize. And if some scammer tries to shame or pressure you into paying for unordered items, report them to the FTC or your State Attorney General. Inform the bully that you know what they’re up to, and you won’t be pushed around.
Now let’s say the mail comes to your organization and it includes printer toner or other office supplies that seem out-of-sort. Don’t open the box and use the products. Contact the appropriate authorities, including:
- The Better Business Bureau - http://www.bbb.org
- The Federal Trade Commission - https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#&panel1-1
As a trustworthy vendor for office printing equipment and supplies, Marco is happy to assist you in reporting suspected Toner Pirates, because we want them out of the scene as much as you do. Just call if you run into any of these bandits.