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Office Supply Scams

Office Supply Scams Rely on Unsuspecting Employees

Every year, businesses lose millions of dollars to con artists. Small businesses in particular need to be alert to "toner phoners", "paper pirates" and other less-than-ethical salespeople who use tricks to peddle office supplies. The weapon of choice for this crime is the telephone. And the perpetrator counts on untrained employees to play an unknowing role.

Here is how one operator is attempting to mislead small businesses. According to complaints filed with the BBB, convenience stores, hair salons, restaurants, auto mechanics, and other small retailers from 27 states have been contacted by a telemarketer who asks to speak to the person in charge of ordering supplies. The caller than asks questions which usually require a yes response from the employee. Afterward, a shipment is sent to the place of business, usually containing paper towels, credit card slips or something similar, accompanied by an invoice which is approximately ten times the value of the shipment.

If the business contacts the supplier to question the invoice, the supplier plays a tape recording of the employee agreeing to order the product. If the business files a complaint with the BBB, the complaint is immediately addressed and resolved. How many small retailers, however, are unaware they have been taken by such schemers and therefore do not lodge a complaint?

The BBB advises small business owners to protect their business from paying for unsolicited or unordered goods and services.

* Train your staff. Advise employees who are not authorized to order supplies and services to refer any such sales people to the purchasing department.

* The purchasing department should be instructed not to respond verbally to unsolicited phone offers for office supplies. Require that all sales pitches be made in writing.

* Do not deal with unknown sellers without first verifying the reliability and complaint history of the seller business with the BBB.

* Institute strict purchasing and accounting controls. Every purchase should be documented by issuing a purchase order to the supplier with an authorized signature and a purchase order number. The handling of invoices, etc. should be centralized and authorization closely checked.

* Keep a list of regularly used vendors. This will help to protect your business against schemers who claim that your company previously used their services.


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