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Scam Alert

Small Business, Big Scam

Beware of 4 ways that crooks can target your company

And scrutinize your invoices. Under U.S. postal regulations, any mailing that looks like an invoice but is really only an invitation for an order or service must include a prominent disclaimer, such as “THIS IS NOT A BILL. THIS IS A SOLICITATION. YOU ARE UNDER NO OBLIGATION TO PAY THE AMOUNT STATED ABOVE UNLESS YOU ACCEPT THIS OFFER."

Report any suspicious invoices to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

Office supply scams. These cost American businesses millions a year, according to the Federal Trade Commission. The basic goal is to generate high bills for frequently ordered supplies such as paper, toner and printer ink.

The scammer may first visit your company’s website or simply call to get the name and title of an employee who is then designated on billing paperwork as an “authorized buyer” for recurring shipments of unnecessary supplies. The scammer’s hope is that your accounts payable department, recognizing the employee’s name, will pay the bill with no questions asked.

Other tricks: Crooks pretend to be with a current or previous supplier, quoting a reasonable price — say, “$19.95 for a carton of 10” — but then billing for a per-unit price ($199.50). Or they may offer to send free or sample merchandise … followed with an inflated bill.

Your protection: Don’t fall for the name game. Instead, ensure that any invoice you pay has a recognizable account number (both that of your vendor and your company). Phony bills often don’t contain the sender’s phone number — that’s a way for scammers to prevent you from getting in touch. Also be wary of bills requesting payment to a P.O. box number rather than a street address. 

Sid Kirchheimer writes about consumer issues for AARP.org.

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