Fraudulent Invoices on the Rise
ATLANTA, GA – The Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection (“OCP”) is warning consumers and businesses about an increase in the number of fraudulent invoices being circulated. You or your business may receive a solicitation that is designed to look like a bill. Frequently, these phony bills will be for goods or services that you routinely order: copier paper, toner and maintenance supplies, equipment maintenance contracts, telecommunications services, or classified advertising. They are made to look like legitimate invoices, and may include an account number or reference number, a payment due date, and an invoice date. The fraudsters will also carefully calculate an amount that is small enough to get paid without arousing suspicion. Sometimes these phony invoices will contain words of urgency in order to induce the payer to respond quickly and not take the time to research the source of the invoice.
Currently, a solicitation is being circulated to businesses, schools and local government offices for a telecommunications maintenance agreement. The solicitations come in the form of an invoice and include a phony reference number, a payment amount of $425.00, and an invoice date. The bills also use phrases like “Thank you for your Business” and “Please remit to the above address” to make businesses think this is a legitimate bill for already agreed upon services. Nowhere on the solicitation does it state the required legal disclaimer that “THIS IS NOT A BILL. THIS IS A SOLICITATION.” Consumers and businesses should take steps to ensure that they do not inadvertently pay for products or services that they have not ordered.
Another deceptive solicitation currently being circulated is a mailer that offers to help new homeowners obtain a copy of their deed for $87.00. These solicitations include phony property ID numbers, property zone numbers, document numbers, etc. in order to appear more legitimate. These mailers will come from a company with an official sounding name, often with the word “Department” in the title. These solicitations may even purport to charge a service fee if the consumer sends in a check after the stated date. These mailers are intended to look government-issued and time-sensitive. Consumers can steer clear of this scam by remembering that they can purchase a deed for a significantly lower amount from their local county clerk’s office.
Another common variation of the scam is phony yellow pages advertising. These solicitations may include a copy of an actual ad that your company placed in a valid telephone directory, giving you the impression that this is a renewal notice. In addition, since neither “Yellow Pages” nor the “walking fingers” logo were ever trademarked, any company can use them on their materials, making a bogus bill even harder to spot. These fake yellow pages ads often never run, or if they do, they either appear in a directory with a limited circulation or one that goes only to advertisers and other non-traditional markets. In other words, you’re receiving little to no value for your money.
Scammers who send fraudulent bills are relying on careless accounting practices on the part of the recipients, hoping that the fake bill will simply get lumped in with legitimate bills and paid without question. You should take precautions to make sure that you are not fooled into paying for the solicitation, because it is likely that you may never receive the goods and services being advertised and you will probably have little to no luck in contacting the company, let alone getting a refund of your money.
Here are some things you can do to protect yourself from this scam:
- Educate your staff about this scam and how to avoid it. If you find fraudulent invoices, keep a record of them and send a copy of them to all your employees. You might consider compiling a list of the companies most frequently used for things such as directory services, office supplies, and other recurring services.
- Implement procedures to inspect invoices before they are paid. Make sure account numbers match up with your records and research the company sending the invoice. You might consider assigning a designated buyer and instruct all employees to refer invoices to that person.
- Before writing a check for an invoice you receive, check out the company with the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) to see if there have been any complaints against it.