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Toner Pirate Scams: What Are They and How to Stop Them

Patrick Flesch
01/21/2021
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One of our Managed Print service customers received an invoice for toner cartridges from another IT services company. The invoice looked legitimate and offered a 10% discount for submitting an electronic payment. However, the fine print on the bill read, “Supplies are warehoused until delivery is requested.”

Translation: pay us for toner you will never see.

In this case, the customer’s entire printer fleet was managed by the Gordon Flesch Company, so it was instantly clear this was an attempt to defraud the customer.

Types of Printer Toner Scams

Unfortunately, there are all kinds of toner scam artists looking to defraud businesses of all sizes. One of the most underhanded types of scams we see is what we call the toner pirate.

There are many reports of telemarketing scams selling overpriced toner, and even a scam involving 67,000 counterfeit toner cartridges in Nigeria. A few years ago, the Federal Trade Commission imposed a judgment of more than $58 million on several U.S.-based companies for tricking small businesses, non-profit organizations, and other consumers into paying for overpriced supplies they never ordered. Despite robust litigation, however, scammers continue to take advantage of unsuspecting employees.

Had the victims of these toner scammers worked with a Managed Print provider that also managed their ink and toner needs, there would have been little question that the telemarketing scam was trying to defraud them. Even then, however, it’s prudent to question a supposed supply vendor who calls to “verify” an order or confirm your printer information.

A representative for a reputable Managed services provider will always identify themselves and their company, and they have a record of your equipment. If you receive an invoice from someone other than your Managed Print provider for toner or office supply orders you didn’t authorize, assume it is a scam and don’t pay.


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Printer supplies need to be replenished routinely, which makes toner refills an ideal target for scammers. Often, fraudsters will solicit information under false pretenses by conducting surveys or pretending they’re service technicians who need to verify equipment information, such as printer model numbers and account numbers.

They’ll later use this information to send a legitimate-looking invoice that your accounts payable department will pay. Sometimes, you’ll receive an invoice along with a delivery of supplies so it looks like a genuine business transaction.

Scam artists might also offer to sell toner at an attractive price. In many cases, it’s because the quoted price is for a single cartridge, but a large pack will be sent, averaging out to be many times the normal price per unit. Even worse, if the supplies are delivered, they’re usually cheap, counterfeit cartridges that leak, have clogged parts or simply don’t work with your machines.

Counterfeit printer cartridges are a real problem, accounting for around $3.5 billion in market value each year.

8 Clues to Identify a Toner Pirate

There are some telltale signs and red flags that can help indicate whether someone is trying to scam your business by posing as a toner pirate.

  1. The offer seems too good to be true.
  2. The company name isn’t familiar or only sounds similar to your supplier’s name.
  3. The caller asks to verify your copier/printer model number and/or serial number, address and other company information.
  4. There isn’t a way to confirm the company’s location, address, or where items will be shipped from.
  5. There is an urgency to act immediately or miss out on a great deal.
  6. The caller is friendly and may even act as if they’ve done business with you before but, when pressed, they become evasive or demanding.
  7. The caller isn’t willing to provide references or send written confirmation with quoted prices and a total invoice amount.
  8. The company uses high-pressure tactics to pay an invoice.

Printer Toner Phone Scam Invoice Example

To get a sense of how these swindlers work, look at the document below. This is a copy of an invoice sent to our client for an illegitimate transaction. As you can see, it looks like a typical invoice. It even came with a coupon for a $100 free gift card for the person who submits the payment as an added inducement.

invoice

“One great thing about having our Managed Print service is that it eliminates the possibility that we will get hit by a toner scheme or false invoice,” says Amos Cramer, the Help Desk Supervisor for Blanchard Valley Health System. “Even if we get an invoice that looks genuine, I know without checking that it’s not legitimate.”


How to Avoid Toner Scams

  • Train all employees to not buy supplies from unsolicited phone calls.
  • Assign only one person to be in charge of ordering office supplies and refer all such calls to that person.
  • Never provide details about your equipment over the phone — toner pirates will call to collect small bits of information that they can use to make future interactions seem authentic and valid.
  • Do not tell strangers your copier serial number, make or model over the phone.
  • Only do business with authorized dealers.
  • Know the contact person for your supply and Managed Print service company.
  • Never sign for and accept a shipment you did not order.
  • If you receive a phone call and it feels suspicious or you're pressured to act fast, hang up and call your regular supplier.

Also, remember that you are not legally obligated to pay for goods you didn't order. If you do receive supplies or think you’re being scammed, contact your local Better Business Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission or your state’s Attorney General.

Working with a Managed Print provider can help minimize this type of fraud. At the Gordon Flesch Company, we offer a single point of contact for ordering supplies, service calls and paying your bills. Reach out to us today for a no-cost, no-obligation assessment of your print environment, and check out the free guide below to learn more about what you can expect with a Managed Print program.

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