California-based US Telecom targets Southern Arizonan Businesses with Phony Invoices
August 10, 2012

Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona is warning businesses of misleading invoices being mailed to companies all over the country- including Southern Arizona- by an Ontario, California-based company, US Telecom (UST). 

The invoices are actually solicitations for USTs services, but appear to be standard invoices, billing companies $425 for services rendered. Nowhere on the solicitation does UST disclose that the invoice is actually a solicitation.

It is against U.S. Postal Service regulations to mail a bill or invoice that is actually a solicitation, unless it bears a clear disclaimer that such unsolicited invoice is for information only and not a request to pay.

The U.S. Postal Service requires solicitations that look like invoices, bills, or account statements to carry one of the following notices:

1. “THIS IS NOT A BILL. THIS IS A SOLICITATION. YOU ARE UNDER NO OBLIGATION TO PAY THE AMOUNT STATED ABOVE UNLESS YOU ACCEPT THIS OFFER.”

2. “THIS IS A SOLICITATION FOR AN ORDER OF GOODS OR SERVICES, OR BOTH, AND NOT A BILL, INVOICE OR STATEMENT OF ACCOUNT DUE. YOU ARE UNDER NO OBLIGATION TO MAKE ANY PAYMENTS ON ACCOUNT OF THIS OFFER UNLESS YOU ACCEPT THIS OFFER.”

UST has accrued 461 consumer complaints with the Los Angeles BBB in the past year, including 182 unanswered complaints. In September, 2011 the Los Angeles BBB conducted an Advertising Review on USTs solicitations and requested that the company include a Disclosure Statement to let businesses know that the mailer is a solicitation.

BBB also requested U.S. Telecom alter the composition and layout of the solicitation so that businesses wouldn’t confuse it with an invoice. U.S. Telecom did not respond to either of BBB’s requests.

In February the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office filed a Cease and Desist order against U.S. Telecom, and its principal, David Bell, for “engaging in unlawful acts or practices” by mailing businesses solicitations that could “reasonably be interpreted” as a bill or invoice.    

BBB encourages businesses in southern Arizona that receive or mistakenly pay this invoice to file a complaint with the Arizona Attorney General’s office at www.azag.gov/AllComplaints.
BBB tips for avoiding invoice scams:

  • The best protection against phony invoices is knowledge and vigilance- never pay a bill unless you’re sure you have a service agreement or contract with that company.
  • Businesses should alert its accounts payable department to be on the lookout for disguised solicitations
  • Carefully review invoices from companies you do not normally do business with
  • Establish effective internal controls for the payment of invoices, and verify all invoices with the person who gave authorization

For more information on scams affecting businesses or to sign up for our free business newsletter visit www.tucson.bbb.org.