Beware of Toner-Cartridge Scams – California Town Scammed for $62,820.50

scam alertThe Taos News reports that a small California town – whose municipal headquarters have just one copier – was billed $62,829.50 from 2010 to 2012 for toner cartridges officials say staff never ordered.

The toner was shipped to Questa by Imaging Supply Center, a now-out-of-business company once based in Villa Park, California. It’s listed by the Better Business Bureau as engaged in “sale by deceptive telemarketing,” and has since been suspected of “toner phoner” scams.

According to investigators, such toner-cartridge scammers typically call a local business, ask for an address as well as a staff person’s name, mail them toner cartridges, and then allege that staff had ordered them.

In the case of Questa, the mayor at the time says the toner cartridges weren’t requested, noting, “The girls sent it back because we didn’t request it. We thought that was the end of that.” But the town still ended up with a large invoice for the toner cartridges – $62,829.50 – and the company has filed a lawsuit to collect the debt. When the toner cartridges first began arriving, staff at the town hall began paying the invoices – paying $18,970 to the company – then later stopped.

An attorney, Lindsay Drennan, is contesting the matter for Questa. She says the fact some of it was paid for appears to have been a clerical issue. The debt was sold to Legal and Debt Recovery, which has sought to recover the alleged debt. Attorney Drennan has filed a motion calling on Eighth Judicial District Court Judge Sarah Backus to dismiss the case.The lawyer representing Legal and Debt Recovery says that although he has no legal contract to collect the debt, supposedly no contract is needed. Judge Sarah Backus will rule on the matter in the coming weeks.

Our Take

The toner-phoner scam has been going on practically ever since the first toner cartridge was made – as far back as the early 1990s. These telemarketers may even say that they’re representing your OEM equipment manufacturer, such as Xerox, and will even offer employees a “free gift.”

According to the Federal Trade Commission, office-supplies fraud costs victims an estimated $200 million per year. Here’s some tips from Xerox to prevent toner-phoner scams:

  • Designate only a particular employee or employees to be responsible for ordering toner cartridges.
  • Before paying invoices, confirm that the supplies were actually ordered and pricing is correct.
  • Confirm the person’s name, company, and callback – and be wary if they refuse to supply it.
  • Don’t be pressured into paying the bill – we note that, without a written contract, the burden is on the toner-phoner to prove the debt.
  • Don’t accept delivered cartridges, which should be sent back to the company with a letter stating the cartridges were never ordered.
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and/or Better Business Bureau.

A few toner cartridges showing up at the office may not seem very important, but, as the case of Questa demonstrates, it can result in tens of thousands of dollars of invoices and legal hassles. Be proactive and make sure all employees are aware of the scam, and take prompt action if you’re targeted.