In a small business or charity organization, people wear many hats and cover multiple responsibilities. This is necessary with a small staff – but it can cause vulnerability to scams.
One of these is an office supply scam. The perpetrators prey on businesses or organizations that may not have a formal procurement process in place and count on lack of communication and procedure.
How does the scam work?
The con artist may call falsely claiming to verify an already existing order. An unsuspecting victim may assume someone else put the order in and okay it. Alternatively, the scammer may simply send supplies that were never ordered – the delivery is accompanied by a large bill which the receiver may innocently pay for.
How can you protect yourself?
- Train your staff
Tell your employees about scams and how they work. Make sure you identify a point person to handle all purchasing over a certain dollar amount and train all staff to refer calls or deliveries to that person.
- Inspect invoices, bank statements and phone bills
Most importantly, do not pay for products or services you’re not sure you ordered. Designate an individual or small group of employees to approve purchase and pay bills and have all employees defer to them. Keep a list of the companies you use for various services and flag any charges that come from companies not on the list. Ask for proof of orders before paying for anything you don’t remember ordering.
- Research unfamiliar companies
If you get a call or solicitation from an unknown company, search online for the company name along with words like “complaint,” “reviews,” or “scam” to see what other people have had to say. You can also check bbb.org or contact your local consumer protection agency or state Attorney General.
- Get the offer in writing
Always ask for the details of an offer in writing. Scammers will often cite a per-item price while they sell multiple-item packages – this can be very confusing over the phone and may lead to victims unknowingly ordering large quantities of supplies they don’t need.
For more information:
BBB Scam Tracker: https://www.bbb.org/scamtracker/us
FTC on Small Business Scams: https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/small-business-scams
FBI on Common Fraud Schemes: https://www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/fraud
Last Reviewed: October 13, 2016