The Better Business Bureau issued a warning earlier this week for schools and small businesses to be aware of an office supply scam.
“It looks like Northeast Mississippi schools are on this company’s list,” said John O’Hara, Mississippi Better Business Bureau CEO. “Office supply scams are on the rise and it’s time for retailers to put extra precautions in place to avoid getting taken by these unscrupulous salesmen.”
The scam first appeared in the area on June 2. A principal informed the BBB she was contacted by a Supply Services company in Texas. The company claimed to be going out of business and was offering deep discounts on school supplies. After hearing the prices being offered, the principal agreed to buy some items in effort to save money for the school.
“A week later, 10 boxes of supplies showed up with an invoice of over $7,500,” said O’Hara. “The consumer thought she had bought about $250 worth of items and contacted the company to send back what she did not order.”
The company offered to take back some of the items, but informed the consumer of a restocking fee of 15 percent would apply plus another $300 in shipping. The total cost of the return was $1,200.
“The BBB report on the business shows similar complaints and the company currently has an “F” rating,” added O’Hara. “This type of scam generally involves deceptive selling tactics of office supply goods used by most businesses such as toner, paper, credit card terminal supplies and even advertising.”
Small business owners are advised to protect their business from paying for unsolicited or unordered goods and services. Some tips offered by the BBB include:
• Train the staff. Advise employees who are not authorized to order supplies and services to refer any such sales people to the purchasing department.
• The purchasing department should be instructed not to respond verbally to unsolicited phone offers for office supplies. Require all sales pitches be made in writing.
• Do not deal with unknown sellers without first verifying the reliability and complaint history of the seller’s business with the BBB.
• Institute strict purchasing and accounting controls. Every purchase should be documented by issuing a purchase order to the supplier with an authorized signature and a purchase order number. The handling of invoices, etc. should be centralized and authorization closely checked.
• Keep a list of regularly used vendors. This will help protect businesses against schemers who claim a company previously used their services.