It begins with a simple question...
The other day at work, I got a phone call from some lady identifying herself as ‘Robin’. She wanted to know what kind of printer we had in our office. I immediately realized she was trying to pull the old toner scam on me, so I played along a little to see how she worked.
First, I asked her why she wanted to know what kind of printer we had. She said it was because her boss told her that there was ‘some kind of mix-up’ and she needed to make sure she had the correct information. I asked her if it was regarding a bill, and she said no. I then asked her how there could be any mix-up if we didn’t order anything from them. She replied by asking me if there was anyone else there in my department who could help her. I told her no and she hung up on me.
What she really wanted to know was if there was somebody else dumb enough to give her our printer info. You see, my father-in-law owns the office supply business from which we buy all our toner. I was going to tell her that, but she hung up on me before I got a chance.
What this ‘Robin’ was trying to do is an old scam that people still run today. It has various names but is generally regarded as the ‘toner scam’ or ‘ink cartridge scam’ because it always involves laser printer toner cartridges or inkjet printer cartridges.
The way the scam works is they find out what kind of printer you have and send you some ink for it, even though you never ordered anything. They let you keep the ink for a while in the hopes that you will use it, then they send you a bill. Their prices are always way more than what you’d normally pay anywhere else. If you call them to question the bill, they will try to guilt you into paying and some of them even make threats. Many people pay the bill because of this, otherwise they might feel like they are stealing.
According to the FTC, you don’t have to pay for unordered merchandise. The FTC says it is even illegal for them to bill you for something they sent that you didn’t order. Don’t fall into the guilt trap and pay for this, because they are forcing their overpriced merchandise onto you. If you are a victim of this scam, be sure to file a complaint with the FTC and Better Business Bureau.
The best defense against this scam is to keep your employees informed on how to recognize it. The scam works so well because it is very easy to get somebody to answer a simple question about the printer in the office, and most of the time the person giving out the information has no idea what they are setting themselves up for. If you do make the mistake of telling them what kind of printer you have, just remember that you don’t have to pay for anything you didn’t order.