Common Scams

The most common types of scams are invoice and telemarketing scams.

Invoice scams may include an initial phone call to gather information to try to "legitimize" an invoice. The call helps the scam company to obtain the names of university contacts, as well as some important details about the operation of the university and its products or services. The scam company's next contact with the university usually comes in the form of a phony invoice sent through the mail. The invoice, which includes names, figures, and other details that add to the appearance of legitimacy, may be paid unwittingly along with a number of other routine bills. Scare tactics sometimes are used to increase the odds of success. A phony invoice, or past-due notice, stamped "Pay This Bill Now" or "We Are About to Start Action" may intimidate the victim into rushing to make out a voucher without carefully investigating the supposedly delinquent charge.

Telemarketing scams usually involve products needing constant replacement such as office supplies (pens; fax paper; photocopier paper, ink or toner) and maintenance supplies (light bulbs, cleaning compounds). The telephone solicitors often read from printed scripts and use a printed list of responses to deflect objections.


While fraudulent telemarketers use many different ploys, the FTC has identified the following common tactics:


They rarely deal with the authorized procurement agent. 

Fraudulent telemarketers usually try to talk with an inexperienced employee who is unfamiliar with procurement procedures. They may use the name of the authorized procurement agent, or the name of another employee to convince the unwitting victim to divulge information or approve an order.

They may mislead you to solicit an order. 

Fraudulent telemarketers usually try to mislead you into believing that they represent your regular supplier. One effective scam involves the fraudulent use of the name of a business's actual supplier to solicit orders. Hustlers also have been known to introduce themselves as representing a storage company with an impressive-sounding name, such as U.S. General Storage or American Central Warehouse.

They might try to con you with a fabricated tale of a "disaster". 

Overturned tractor-trailers, fire sales, and liquidations are among the many fictions used by office supply schemers to allegedly offer substantial savings by selling supplies at sharply reduced prices.

They may claim to be conducting a survey of office equipment or updating their records. 

Once you have given them the information they need (for example, the model number on your photocopier), they may pose as your new supplier, or as an authorized dealer for the products you use.

They may try to pressure you into placing an immediate order. 

Fraudulent telemarketers may offer "bargain prices" if you order right away -- but their prices are usually much higher than the going market rate. The pitch that prices are "going up tomorrow" or that, since you mistakenly were not notified of a price increase, you are entitled to a special "one-time only" purchase at the "old" price, is aimed at pushing you into immediate, imprudent action.

They may offer free gifts. 

To induce you to place an order, fraudulent telemarketers may offer to send a free personal gift, such as a transistor radio or calculator, to your home. Most likely, the gift will never arrive, and even if it does, its value will rarely be offset by the inflated price of the products ordered.

They may misrepresent merchandise, including the quality, type, size, and brand name of their products. 

Most of these suppliers are selling an inferior or lower quality product. They also may sell a lower volume product than you would normally get at an inflated price.

The supplier may try to represent themselves as being part of the University or a supplier you normally do business with. 

Often they represent themselves as our normal supply supplier or may represent themselves as being an on-campus supplier. Ask for a phone number to call them back, this will usually end the phone call.

They may refuse to accept returned merchandise. 

If you complain about the products received, fraudulent telemarketers may try to persuade you to keep the shipment at a so-called "discount price." They usually refuse to accept returned merchandise or pay for return shipments, and they may attempt to charge you for storage or damages. 


Eight Ways to Spot a Phone Scam

1. Firm's name intended to sound like the manufacturer or your regular supplier.

2. You must act on the offer that day.

3. Telemarketer acts like he/she has done business with you before.

4. Unwilling to send written information on the offer, or references.


5. Unwilling to give you a telephone number.

6. Caller asks for your credit card number as identification.

7. Caller asks for serial number on your copier.

8. Caller asks for your social security number.



Types of Scams

There are lots of different scams operating at any one time, but there are a few that always seem to be operating in one form or another. A description of the most common types is given below:

Toner Phoners

These firms may contact a department asking to update its shipping and copier model number information, then ships and bills you for toner. Advise your staff not to give any information to a caller from a company they do not know. Your usual supplier has all the account information needed.

Often, these firms will use the name of an executive in their quest to get a machine model number and to have an order shipped. Ask the caller for his/her name and phone number in order to call back. This request will often result in a hang-up or a revised story from the caller. DO NOT sign and return any order forms faxed to your department by an unfamiliar company.

    Fax Directory Scam

    If your department receives an official-looking invoice requesting payment for a listing in an international business telefax or telex directory, be on alert. The "invoice" may be a solicitation in disguise, issued by a fraudulent "directory company." Often, the directory does not even exist. In fact, the fine print on the invoice may simply indicate an intention to print the directory - making legal recourse nearly impossible, if you find out about the scam only after you have paid the bill. To further complicate matters, the address to which you are directed to mail your check, often a post office box, may be nothing more than a mail drop.

    To avoid getting taken by a phony fax directory scheme, make certain procurement and accounting departments are aware of the scam, and remember, legitimate fax directory publishers generally do not charge for listings.

    Yellow Pages Billings

    Be on the lookout for phony bills, which appear to be for Yellow Page advertisements.The Better Business Bureau warns that these invoices are actually solicitations for listings in alternative business directories that differ from the well-known yellow pages. The solicitation from an alternative business directory may look like a legitimate invoice. It may feature the name "yellow pages" or include the familiar "walking fingers" logo and falsely state that the publisher is affiliated with the local telephone company or another bona fide yellow pages publisher.

    Because the name "yellow pages" and the "walking fingers" logo are not protected by any federal trademark registration they can be used by anyone. A careful review of the "invoice" may find the words "This is a solicitation". Before buying advertising space through a mail solicitation or paying a “Yellow Pages” invoice, do the following:


    • Check out the company.
      Call your local Yellow Pages publisher to discover if it is affiliated with the soliciting company.
    • Ask the publisher for a copy of a previous directory edition.
      If one is provided, contact a sampling of previously listed businesses to find out if the directory was helpful to them.
    • Ask the publisher to provide all information in writing.
      This includes: where the directory is distributed; the way it is distributed (does each local telephone customer receive it?); how often it is published; and total distribution or circulation figures.
    • Check out the publication.
      Call your local Better Business Bureau and other state and local consumer protection agencies to determine if any complaints have been filed against the publisher.

    Advertisement Firms

    Advertisement firms may contact you to renew or start a subscription for a listing in their directory. This contact may be either a phone call or a solicitation, which looks similar to an invoice. You may also receive an actual invoice for the listing.

    The directory listing that is offered may be printed or may be an on-line web directory. The directory most certainly will exist, however, it is important for each department to carefully evaluate the value received for any such listing.

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