I received an invoice today from an advertising company based in Illinois for an ad we apparently ran with an Indianapolis-based high school in their spring sports calendar. This was the first I’d heard of any ad, but we have 16 branches, so it isn’t unheard of that someone local agreed to a small sponsorship listing supporting a local high school. The invoice was for $109, so it didn’t raise huge red flags. I got in touch with our Indy branch and no one there was aware of any ad. Further digging suggested that this was likely a scam. The business’s website was sketchy, no contact name or direct email, other businesses had posted similar concerns and the general vagueness of the invoice all alerted me that this was a scam.
There’s a whole criminal enterprise that operates by simply sending out these fake invoices. It isn’t uncommon, unfortunately. Many use scare tactics.
LEGAL ACTION WILL BE TAKEN!
PAYMENT PAST DUE!
ACCOUNT SUSPENDED! IMMEDIATE ACTION REQUIRED!
Many pose as a yellow-pages style telephone directory and claim: Your listing is in jeopardy. Your listing will be removed. Your listing has expired.
How many people end up submitting payments, providing sensitive account and personal information, on these fake invoices. The invoice amounts themselves are often reasonable and seemingly for a vital business component. “$239 to keep our local telephone listing. Sounds right.” “$350 to renew our trademark. Absolutely.” “$150 to renew our domain name. OK.”
In the tradeshow world, there exists several pirate housing agencies that will claim to be the official housing agency of this-or-that tradeshow. They are not a scam, in the traditional sense, as they do offer a service and will book rooms. However, they represent themselves as something they are not, mislead individuals about fees and availabilities, they are not transparent about policies and penalties, and finally, make it near impossible to get in contact with them. This makes them a scam in my book.
Several years ago, I fell for another type of scam involving printing supplies. It was extremely well conceived, as scams go, and organized. One morning I received a call from a individual, posing as a sales rep for a printing supply company, asking about our printers and suppliers. “What kind of printer does your office use? I can put together a quote on ink and cartridges and you can compare it to your current supplier.” Harmless right? I’m never opposed to finding a better, less expensive source. I listed a few of our larger printers and the conversation ended there. A few days later, after that brief conversation completely faded from memory, I received a call from another individual who never really identified himself, but acted as if we’d known each other for years.
“Zack, I’m in the warehouse right now and we have your printer cartridges packed up and ready to ship out. I just wanted to verify that they should go to your attention.”
He listed off our printers as if he had walked through our office himself to check them out. I made the assumption that this was our regular supplier and without thinking, I said yes, “Put them to my attention.” Several days later we received a shipment of cartridges, to my attention, at nearly 5 times the cost of what we normally pay. I returned the cartridges immediately. A week later I received an invoice for a 25% restocking fee. I was livid, in part with the company and in part with himself. I didn’t pay the restocking fee despite some push back by the supply company. I pushed back and they “waived” all charges. I asked them to place us on their “Do Not Call” list and I reported them to the BBB.
Scammers will threaten, but in the end the last thing they want is to bring attention to themselves. They’re hoping for the easy money and as little interaction as possible. Never assume and if need be, push back. More importantly, when it comes to providing sensitive material to potential vendors and third party companies, question everything.