Just when you thought it was safe to order office supplies ... Well, actually, ordering supplies for your office is probably pretty safe, just as long as you're not ordering from a few unscrupulous vendors in California or Maryland.
The Federal Trade Commission just charged 12 companies in those two states for ripping off non-profit organizations and small businesses, and "tricking them into paying for overpriced office and cleaning supplies they never ordered." So how do you avoid the same fate as some of these victims?
Know What to Look out For
The FTC has charged companies in California for an elaborate "backorder" scam. The defendants would allegedly call businesses with offers of deals or free samples of items like art supplies or office products. Then they would ask customers to accept additional shipments by falsely claiming they were backorders -- part of previous purchases that the customer already paid for -- and then billing the customer again. If customers refused shipments or payment, the defendants would threaten to send them to collections.
In Maryland, defendants would also target customers with offers of free samples. They would then also contact someone else in the same company who handled invoices, and who didn't know merchandise had not been received, and pressure them for payment. The FTC said that both scams targeted "child care centers, educational institutions, churches, and hospitals."
Know Who Not to Buy From
The two FTC cases are against twelve total defendants:
- In California: Telestar Consulting Inc. (AKA, Kleritec and United Business Supply) and Karl Wesley Angel; and
- In Maryland: American Industrial Enterprises LLC, Easton Chemical Supply Inc., Lighting X-Change Company LLC, LMS Lighting & Maintenance Solutions LLC, Werner International Enterprises Inc., Benjamin Cox, Vincent Stapleton, and John Tharrington.
According to Jessica Rich, Director of the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection, "The defendants lied to small businesses, charities and churches to get them to pay for overpriced supplies they didn't order. That's not only shameful," she said, "it's also illegal."
Small business owners would be wise to avoid these vendors, and if you've already encountered them, you may want to contact the FTC or an experienced commercial attorney to see if you have a claim.
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