Beware the Toner Pirates

Every day, scores of businesses are defrauded of hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars by smooth-talking scam artists who seem to know a lot about their office copiers.  Called toner phoners or toner pirates, the crooks hawk toner and cartridges for copy machines to unsuspecting businesses over the telephone.  When the goods are delivered, they’re overpriced, of poor quality, short on quantity, or all three.  Customers who refuse to pay are threatened with bad credit or even lawsuits.  Very often customers pay up rather than having their credit history marred or going to the expense of hiring a lawyer.

We receive many questions from customers about calls they receive from these unfamiliar sources requesting information about their copiers or offering toner at a “special” price”.  If you get a call like this, always ask for the caller’s name, telephone number, and company name.  These questions usually result in the caller hanging up indicating that they are in fact a toner pirate.  AARGH!

Estimates vary, but American businesses lose anywhere from $200 million to nearly $4 billion annually to the con artists.  According to FBI estimates, businesses are the target in 12 percent of all telephone fraud cases.  The Division of Marketing Practices at the FTC says the typical toner pirate scam has two phases.

In Phase One, cold calls in a target area are made in order to determine if a business has a copier, and if so, the make and model number.  These unscrupulous callers often pretend to be from a local office supply dealership where the computers have broken down and they need to verify orders by phone.  Another ruse is to say that new manuals are being sent out and the caller needs to verify the make and model number.  The whole point of the exercise is to set up follow-up calls.  Now armed with make and model, the next callers can convincingly pass themselves off as the target company’s regular dealer or an affiliate.  A few days later the customer will receive a box containing a low-quality product or low quantity case and a bill eight to ten times higher than the legitimate price.  Many companies pay the bill without realizing they’ve been duped. Others, while realizing they’ve been had, pay the bill to avoid all the aggravation.  Companies that refuse to pay are often threatened with legal suits and poor credit ratings.

In Phase Two additional toner and bills are sent to the companies that paid before.  You may want to consider these tips to put toner pirates on perpetual hold:

  • Know who you are talking to. If you are unsure ask if you can call back.  Toner pirates will rarely offer a return number.  Or, install caller ID on your phone system so that you can verify the call is from a legitimate business.
  • Establish clear purchasing guidelines and designate persons authorized to make purchases. Make sure all employees are clear on the policy.
  • Instruct employees not to provide information to callers about office equipment. Do not accept delivery of shipments you did not order or authorize.  If you do wind up with an unauthorized shipment, send a certified letter to the seller demanding proof of the order and demand the shipper retrieve the goods at his own expense.
  • Buy brand-name supplies from your regular dealer.
  • Do not be bullied with threats of lawsuits. Few if any toner pirates follow through since legal action would involve discovery proceedings, the last thing any toner pirate wants!

Call J2 if you have any questions! 406-752-8520.

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