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Educational Consumer Tips

Office Supply Scams

Author: Rachel Gelb
Category: Scams

Businesses are being bilked out of millions of dollars through office supply scams. And, despite repeated warnings from Better Business Bureau, businesses continue to fall for scams requesting them to pay for merchandise they didn't order.

Organizations can protect themselves from mistakenly paying for what they don't want - or haven't ordered. Better Business Bureau, along with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), offer the following five rules for protecting your organization:

Know and insist on your rights.  If you receive merchandise you didn't order, you may keep it as a gift according to the FTC.  According to a federal law commonly referred to as the "Unordered Merchandise Law," and principles established in FTC enforcement cases, it is illegal for the seller to send you bills or dunning notices for unordered merchandise and ask you to return it, even if the seller offers to pay the shipping expenses.

Don't pay any bills that do not match your documentation.  When merchandise arrives, the receiving employee should check to see that it conforms to the shipper's bill of lading, especially with respect to items, brands, and quantities.  Refuse any merchandise if it doesn't conform to the bill of lading or if the bill of lading doesn't conform to the purchase order.

Document orders.  Designate specific individuals to be responsible for ordering all supplies.  For each order, the designated buyer should issue to the supplier a written purchase order on a standard multiple-copy form with an authorized signature and a purchase order number.

Train your employees or volunteers, especially those who answer the telephone or who provide maintenance or support services.  If your employees are not familiar with certain callers, advise them to say something like, "I am not authorized to order anything.  You will have to speak to the person in charge of ordering supplies and get a purchase order."  Even those employees who have ordering responsibilities are often telephoned by sellers they don't know, and may be pressured by the caller to make a quick decision on the telephone.  In these situations it is advisable to inform the caller that the company does not authorize any orders by telephone.  Ask the seller to send you a catalog or merchandise list.

Do not pay for or return unordered merchandise.  If you are certain that you didn't order the merchandise the seller has shipped, do not pay for or return the merchandise.  You may keep and use unordered merchandise.  Report the incident to the appropriate authorities.  Check the seller out with your Better Business Bureau before doing business with the company.

About the Author: Rachel Gelb is Communications and Marketing Manager for BBB serving Eastern Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont. Find Rachel on Google +.

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