Con artists target businesses in phone scam

March 28, 2011 4:21:24 PM PDT
It is hard enough for small business owners to make it these days. Now a scam targeting them could make it even tougher. The state of Texas is sending a warning to business owners to be on the lookout. The Texas Attorney General's Office is warning businesses about the 'phoner-toner' scam. Basically it starts with an innocent phone call, but it ends with businesses getting bills for things they never ordered.

Rachel Johnston of Rover Oaks Kennel said, "It could be the idea of life or death for a small business."

Johnston had not heard of the scam, but says it has the potential to cripple a company caught off guard by it.

Here's how it works: A company gets a phone call from someone claiming to be their printer and copy machine supplier. The fake supplier asks an unwitting employee to confirm what kind of copier the company has. Once that's done, the firm starts getting unordered toner and ink cartridges and the bills for them, too.

The scammers hope the invoices will get paid by companies that simply don't know the products were not really ordered in the first place.

You may not know it, but that ink is big money for small businesses.

"Most ink cartridges for the big copiers are anywhere from $500 to $1,000 for what is considered a three-month supply, 500,000 copies," Johnston said. "You are talking a lot of money."

The Texas Attorney General says several of its own employees have reported that they received unsolicited telephone calls at work from office supply scam artists. Now the AG is warning all the state's small business owners to watch out for the scam.

Monica Russo with the Houston Better Business Bureau explained, "A lot of time with these scams there is always a sense of urgency -- you have to order now. If there is anything like that, take a moment to stop and think this could actually be a scam."

Russo says she sees complaints every month from companies that are getting products they did not order. Russo says the bills should be ignored.

"They can accept it as a gift," she said.

Businesses that receive fraudulent invoices and supplies that were not ordered, or are subjected to bogus collection threats, should file a complaint with the Texas Attorney General's Office at 800-252-8011 or online at

Businesses may also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or the Better Business Bureau.

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