Fraudulent Invoices Frequently Fool Bill-Payers

Overflowing mail 150x150 Fraudulent Invoices Frequently Fool Bill PayersYou get a bill in the mail. You go to pay it. Pretty straightforward? NO. Put down your checkbook while you reconsider.

  • Is this bill actually a disguised solicitation?
  • Is this invoice from a company you don’t normally do business with?
  • If you’re a business, have you established effective internal controls for bill-paying?
  • Have you verified this invoice with the person who gives bill-paying authorization?

Every week my BBB office receives inquiries about an F-rated California company called U.S. Telecom, whose business practices have generated 357 complaints so far. The company is currently the subject of a Cease & Desist Order from the North Dakota Attorney General’s office, which alleges unlawful acts or practices in violation of consumer fraud laws.

The AG’s office says the defendants’ mailings would have reasonably been interpreted as bills for $425, but were actually solicitations to pay for goods or services consumers hadn’t yet ordered. The AG’s office alleges the defendants made untrue, deceptive and misleading representations in connection with the mailings.

U.S. postal regulations do not allow the mailing of a bill-type solicitation without a clear disclaimer. Solicitations which resemble invoices are required to carry this disclaimer in bold, capital letters of at least 30-point font. The disclaimer must contrast prominently with the solicitation’s background and isn’t to be modified, qualified, or explained.

Something else to watch out for: Demands for payment from an apparent government agency. Some months ago we had trouble with a “labor law poster” company creating this kind of solicitation to Montana businesses. The invoice-type mailers suggested that if you didn’t pay, you were breaking the law.

While Montana and most states do require employers to display labor law posters, they’re  available for free from your state Department of Labor & Industries.

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About Holly Doering

Holly Doering has worked for the Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Washington, North Idaho, and Montana for half a decade. Her areas of expertise include the CORE Values Program (Character, Optimism, Respect, Ethics) for Teens and Charity Review as well as writing and editing. Prior to that, she has written for two newspapers, a local magazine, and taught English at the community college. She is the proud author of a short story in ZYZZYVA literary magazine and has had good luck publishing lots of poetry. Each year she rolls up her sleeves and wades into the autumn Nanowrimo writing madness and has several unfinished novels to her credit.