I know, “toner pirates” sounds like a crazy Saturday Night Live sequel to the “Makin’ Copies” skits of the 90s (the phrase always makes me start humming “A Pirate Looks at 40” by Jimmy Buffet).
Unfortunately, they’re real (in 2016 Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller secured a judgement against three Orange County, CA operations barring them from targeting Iowa offices with “a classic toner pirate scam”). When originally created this post after two of our customers had been victimized. They're at it again.
Here's how they tried to board three of our clients just this past week.
One customer simply received toner and an invoice for over $1,000. Another customer received only an invoice.
A customer in a surgeon's office, called us and asked if we were calling our customers and telling them about a rate increase in supplies. We told her no, and that the majority of our customers have supplies included in their contract. She was contacted by a rep from Supplies Solutions. Pretending to be our customer's supplier, the rep said she was calling 300 customers who weren't notified of a rate increase on 7/31/18 from $493 to $592.50. “Generously,” they were allowing the rate to remain the same for the next year.
If you receive a similar call , a boarding attempt is in progress!
For how to deal with these scurvy dogs' attempts to rip you off, read on.
These pirates don’t need a flag and a cutlass to board your pocketbook; they only need a phone call and a lack of understanding among your employees about how your office buys its supplies.
Let's start off with how to spot a toner pirate off the starboard bow.
10 Ways to Spot Toner Pirates
- Act now! No delays! You have to act immediately or the same day.
- They won't give you references.
- They won't give you prices in writing
- The caller pretends they're doing business with your office now or have in the past
- They ask for the model number of your copier, fax, or printer.
- They ask for your copier, fax, or printer serial number
- Free gift! If, of course, you order now.
- No actual dollar amount given.
- They won't share an address and are located out of state.
- The company name they use sounds close to your supplier's name or sounds like a government agency.
Remember – your legitimate equipment supplier (like us!) won't ask any of these questions.
Pirates of the Telebean (pronounced like the movie)
Toner piracy is a telemarketing scam. They’ll pretend to be your office supply partner or a replacement one. This creates the illusion of legitimacy and that answering their questions and placing an order is normal business.
You will receive toner. It will be poor quality, contain less toner per cartridge than it should, and be outrageously overpriced. If used (don’t do that!), these inferior supplies can damage your copiers and printers.
The smarter and more well-organized toner pirates will place multiple calls to you. These calls will go something like this:
Pirate 1: Who supplies your toner and office equipment, such as copiers and printers?
Pirate 1 (a few days later): I’m terribly sorry, but I’m calling from Advanced Systems and I need to verify our records – we had some issues with our backup and lost some data. I know, embarrassing. Can you share the make and model of your copiers and printers with me so I can ensure they’re up-to-date.
Most employees, trying to be helpful, will answer.
If an employee questions the caller, they’re often deflected with an answer of:
- The pricing is the same as in the past
- Let me get back to you about providing an invoice number
- It’s been a while since we’ve supplied you, but we’ve recently begun again
Pirate 2: (calling a few days later): This is Blackbeard calling from Advanced Systems. We’ve just discovered that toner and associated supplies for [model number from previous call] will be doubling in price soon. We’d like to help you out by locking you in at the current lower price and ordering in advance.
Pirate 3: (calling later the same day/next day): This is Captain Jack Sparrow, thanks for your order. I’d like to confirm that your company is ordering [a bunch of stuff you don’t really need from a pretend supplier]. Thank you.
The Fake Invoice
Another approach is for pirates to find the name and address of an employee in your office, maybe even one with real purchasing authority. They’ll then call to confirm an order for goods that your company never actually placed.
Before sending the invoice, the toner pirates will send the supplies. Often, the supplies will have been used by the time the invoice – complete with inflated pricing – arrives.
Don’t Be Embarrassed
Well-intentioned employees are duped often enough for toner pirates to continue this noxious practice.
Confusion is their friend. Train your employees and follow a few common sense tips and you’ll out sail pirates and leave them in your wake.
- Don’t order toner unsolicited. Use our portal or contact us directly (800.274.2047). Train all customer-facing staff who regularly receive phone calls to never order toner, paper, etc. on the phone.
A - Always compare prices with your normal dealer before you buy.
- Never answer a question about an incomplete order, saying that the accounting department lost a name. Ask for it in writing first or take down their name and number and have someone in your ordering department get back to them.
- If it feels weird or if you feel pressured, hang up and call us directly. We don’t push supplies you don’t need, so if you’re feeling pressured to buy toner or office equipment supplies – it’s not us! A few other giveaways:
A - The caller is not the salesperson you normally deal with – this can happen as people do get sick, go on vacation, or change jobs. If it does, get their number, call your dealership, and confirm the new person is legitimate.
B - The caller tries to avoid or refuses to give their phone number – a legitimate business will give you a phone number, toner pirates won’t.
C - There’s a time element – act now! – to the pitch.
- Ask them for your account number – which only the two of us have. When they hang up, pat yourself on the back for a well-placed cannon shot to their hull.
- Don’t answer questions about your copiers and printers over the phone. Our information is backed up, we don’t lose customer data.
- If merchandise arrives at your office without an invoice:
A - Simply refuse it or return to sender
B - If it makes it into your office, don’t open it
- Contact the authorities – or call us and we’ll do it. These scams costs businesses an estimated $200 million each year. Contacting these agencies will help wipe these pirates from the seven seas.
A - U.S. Postal Service - https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/contactus/filecomplaint.aspx
B - Better Business Bureau - http://www.bbb.org/iowa
C - Federal Trade Commission - https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#&panel1-1
We’ve had some fun with this post, but this is serious business. Toner pirates are scam artists intent on stealing your business booty (sorry, couldn’t help it).
You can also write a written report to the authorities mentioned above. Follow this link to find the address for your closest Better Business Bureau.
The Federal Trade Commission
Division of Marketing Practices
6th Street and Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20580
The United States Postal Service
P.O. Box 4140
Burbank, CA 91503