Miller Announces "Office Scam Alert Project"
Businesses and associations join effort to prevent "toner pirates" and other con-artists from victimizing businesses and other offices.
DES MOINES-- Businesses, professional offices, religious and other associations are joining forces with the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division to fight back against consumer fraud schemes that target offices with scams ranging from "toner-phoner" fraud to phony charity solicitations and long-distance "slamming."
Attorney General Tom Miller was joined today by a dozen business, professional and religious associations in launching the "Office Scam Alert Project."
"We're fighting back against schemes that deliberately target offices," Miller said. "The con-artists often are cunning and deceptive, and the best defense is for people to know about the threat and how to thwart these scams."
The groups involved in the project worked with the Consumer Protection Division to produce 20,000 brochures for statewide distribution. The brochure describes typical scams that target offices:
Office supply scams. Scam-artists use deception to trick businesses into ordering high-cost office supplies, most often copy machine toner. "We call them toner pirates or toner-phoner schemes," Miller said. He said the con-artists often call ahead and use deception to obtain key information such as what kind of copier an office uses and the name of the office manager or purchasing director. "The scheme is costly for the office, and it hurts the honest supplier who loses business," Miller said.
Unordered goods. An office may receive unordered goods -- and a hefty bill and threat of collection action. Miller said unordered goods may be considered a gift under Iowa law.
Phony invoices. Offices may receive invoices for products or services they never ordered or received, ranging from office supplies to bogus, look-alike "Yellow Page" solicitations disguised as an invoice. The Office Scam Alert Project materials urge offices to train employees to watch for unusual or questionable invoices and to check records to be sure that merchandise or services were authorized, ordered, and delivered.
Phone "slamming" and "cramming." "Businesses often are the victim of long-distance slamming and phone bill cramming," Miller said. He urged offices to beware of questionable mail or telephone solicitations, and to scrutinize phone bills every month for unauthorized charges. "Cramming" is when con-artists put unauthorized charges of some sort on the monthly telephone bill -- for a listing in a so-called "Internet 800-number directory," for example.Questionable charity solicitations. Like everyone else, Miller said, offices are asked for donations. Some are certainly legitimate, but others are outright scams, and in still others almost none of the donation goes to the charitable purpose, Miller said.
"Deception is the stock-in-trade for office scams," Miller said. "We are fighting back with information to put people on alert. We are thrilled to have the strong cooperation of these businesses and associations."
Miller said his office also undertakes criminal and civil action against perpetrators of office scams.
Organizations cooperating in the Office Scam Alert Project include: the Association of Iowa Hospitals and Health Systems; Ecumenical Ministries of Iowa; the Iowa Automobile Dealers Association; the Iowa Chiropractic Society; the Iowa Credit Union League; the Iowa Health Care Association; the Iowa Medical Society; the Iowa Bankers Association; the Iowa Pharmacists Association; the Iowa-Nebraska Equipment Dealers Association; the Iowa Retail Federation; and The Principal Financial Group.
Joining Miller in speaking at today's news conference were Paul Huntley, Marketing Director for the Iowa Retail Federation, and Bette Brown, Manager, Investigation Services for The Principal Financial Group, which contributed printing of posters and thousands of brochures for the project. Miller said the Iowa Credit Union League contributed design and graphic work for the materials.
Tracy Kasson of the Iowa League of Cities told how the League office had received unordered and over-priced copy machine toner supplies from a Florida company. The Miami company claimed to have taken over the office supply account from a reputable local supplier -- and threatened collection procedures if the League didn't pay for the supplies.
Miller also credited the Xerox company for extensive cooperation in identifying victims of "toner pirates" and providing information used by the Consumer Protection Division in building cases against the schemes.
"We strongly urge victims to notify us," Miller said. "This is big business for con-artists, and we need good information to fight back and knock them out of operation."