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and other supply scams

Beware “toner phoners”
and other supply scams

“We are calling because we have a great sale going on right now on toner for your copier. With all the price changes lately and more to come, now would be a great time to purchase a case of toner and really save! Sound good? Well, let’s get this order going.”
This boiler-room operation tries to deal with an employee who is unfamiliar with the normal purchasing operation of your business, which could be costly to your company and your equipment. So educating yourself and your employees about fraudulent telemarketing could save you time and money.
The sales pitch can cover a large range of products, such as facsimile machine paper, toner, pens and now, laser-printer supplies. These are only some of the products being pushed by these operations.
Most of the calls start out with: “a national distributor is going out of business”; “liquidation of stock”; or “a local business in the area has canceled its order and the supplies are in town ready for delivery.” These are the phrases to watch out for on the phone today.
Almost weekly, office-supply companies get calls from one of their customers about somebody calling them regarding a special sale. Be careful about any strange call coming to your office. Sometimes a “scout” will call a few days in advance and ask what kind of copier, fax or printers you have in your office. They even might ask who is your current supplier of office machines and supplies.
This information is very valuable for the “closer” who will be calling next. The closer now is armed with all the information needed to “talk the talk” for your office-machine needs.
The closer knows the make and model of your copier, fax and printers, and now even knows who you have been buying from. A telemarketer will try to make you feel like he or she is helping your local supplier save you money.
The Federal Trade Commission and the Business Technology Association have been working together for years on this problem. The association, based in Kansas City, is the national trade association for office machine dealers. Both the FTC and the association charge that these fraudulent telephone marketing companies have bilked U.S. companies out of millions of dollars with deceptive supply calls.
These companies’ false claims are for the supplies they sell: that they are brand-name or OEM label and will perform as good or better in your machine. Office-supply companies’ service departments have run into this problem all too often in the last couple of years with calls about dark copies, light copies, poor toner yields and more–the result of products bought from these scam artists.
This means changing developer and sometimes the drum, which can be costly to correct the poor quality or the wrong toner. The factory-labeled, brand-name toner is designed for your copier by the manufacturer. This assures the proper factory formulation for the best copy quality and toner yields the machine is designed for. Watch out for the off-brand or private-labeled toners–they are not a bargain for their cost.
The association also cites the case-lot pricing and back-order shipment scam as another trick in the game. You order a case of toner for your local dealer price of $300; with a case-lot discount, your bill is $250 for a case of 10 bottles, or $25 per bottle.
The deal from the “toner phoners” is a special case price of $175. Is this a great deal? Well, maybe. You open the case when it gets to your office, and there are four bottles–their idea of a case of toner, which comes out to $43.75 per bottle.
The other angle is: After receiving payment for the goods, the company will notify the customers that the balance of their previous order is in and ready for shipment when, in fact, the previous order was shipped completely the first time. The company then will bill for the alleged balance to complete the back order.
The FTC and the association say that these telemarketing companies will bilk customers for unordered goods shipped to them, or fail to disclose hidden charges such as extra fees for shipping or handling or a stocking fee.
If you have been hit by these fraudulent telemarketers, the association has come up with a sample “letter to revoke goods”:
“I am the purchasing officer for (your company’s name). We received (X amount) of (toner, fax paper) from your company. Please be on notice that we are hereby revoking our acceptances of the delivered goods for the following reasons (pick any or all that apply to your needs):
–misrepresentation as our normal supplier;
–inferior quality of delivered goods;
–quality of goods delivered does not conform with telephone conversation;
–the goods were never ordered; or
–the goods were grossly overpriced.
(Add any other reasons that may apply for your not wanting the delivered product.)
“We require that you arrange to have the (toner, fax paper, etc.) packed up and returned to your business establishment. We will hold the shipment for pickup within 30 days after your receipt of this letter. If the goods are not picked up within that time period, we will be forced to dispose of the goods.
“Any future correspondence from your company to ours must be in writing. If you have (your company’s name) on your records for any future orders, please cancel those orders as none have been made.”
Indicate that you are sending a carbon copy to the Business Technology Association, staff attorney, 222 S. Riverside Plaza, Chicago, Ill. 60606, or the Federal Trade Commission, Attorney General’s Office. Send this letter by certified mail with return receipt requested.
The association welcomes any information regarding fraudulent telemarketers to assist in its efforts to put them out of business. Most of the companies operate out of California and Las Vegas and move around, staying just ahead of the agencies that regulate the industry.
The Council of Better Business Bureaus Inc. in Arlington, Va., keeps records on all such companies when they are reported. If you feel you may have been scammed, please report them. The Better Business Bureau will inform you of the company’s history, past complaints or any other problems with the company.
Your local authorized supplier is your best defense against the fraudulent telemarketers and bargain supplies that can damage your equipment. Whatever the reason for the “bargain” prices, the goods are usually bad news for business and bad news for the supply industry.
Quality supplies from quality suppliers will keep all your office machines functioning properly and effectively.
(Phillip Tiberio is owner of Eastern Office Supply Co. in Latham, near Albany. This article first appeared in the Capital District Business Review, an affiliated publication.)

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