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Recognizing & Preventing Office Supply Scams

The Federal Trade Commission estimates that office supply scams cost U.S. organizations more than $200 million a year. Large companies are not immune, but small businesses and non-profits are the most common targets.

Be wary of callers

Office supply scams typically start when someone calls your business to obtain your street address and the name of an employee. Having an employee’s name will lend legitimacy to bogus invoices or shoddy products the perpetrator is preparing to send your company.

One common scam involves shipping low-quality products and then following up a week or two later with a pricey invoice. The delay is intentional: the perpetrator expects you will not notice the final price is much higher than you would pay for better quality products from a legitimate supplier. The con artist also hopes you will have used some of the products and feel obligated to pay for them.

Refuse gift horses

Sometimes, thieves do not bother shipping products. They simply send phony invoices timed to arrive when you would normally receive a bill for an actual purchase. Others call and offer to send a promotional item such as a coffee mug. Before they hang up, however, they mention in passing that they are going to throw some ink cartridges in with the coffee mug. What they do not mention is that they also will throw in a bill for the ink.

This ‘gift horse’ fraud is designed to pit owners against employees. When you receive a bill with an employee’s name on it, you question the employee. The scammer is hoping the employee will be so nervous about accepting the promotional item that you will believe they mistakenly ordered the additional merchandise.

Establish procedures

The best way to stop office supply scams is to prevent them from starting. Begin by telling employees to refer all telemarketing calls to one or two designated buyers.

Require these buyers to follow established approval procedures. For example, when buyers make purchases, they should forward copies of their orders to accounts payable. Also, they should tell vendors to include your company’s purchase order numbers on their shipment documents. When merchandise arrives, it needs to be inspected and verified.

Shop smart

Note that your company is not legally obligated to pay for anything it receives that it did not order. Do not let scammers convince you otherwise. For more tips on preventing office supply scams, contact us.

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