'Toner Pirates' Target Businesses, Churches

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Copier owners beware. A fraudulent company may be targeting local charitable organizations and businesses seeking exaggerated payments for office products.

"Toner pirates," as they are referred by members of the copier industry, call businesses, churches and charitable organizations looking for information so that they can send a phony bill or make an overpriced transaction with an unwitting volunteer or employee.

Brent Lakatos, co-owner of Beeline Business Equipment first realized there was a scheme going on in Payson when his clients called, inquiring about a $500 bill for toner from a company with a similar name to his.

"Someone called me and asked why I charged them $500 for toner," he said. "It wasn't my company, though. They'll use two words from a real company's name and change the third, so it looks like a real business," Lakatos said.

Lakatos said he has seen invoices that were sent to his clients with a name meant to purposely be mistaken for his business' name. The invoices look authentic and so volunteers or new employees often submit the bill to be paid, or even pay the bill, never realizing that it is completely fake.

The company will often send past-due invoices, hoping that an unwitting employee will rush into payment because the bill is deemed "late."

Another tactic the "toner pirates" use is calling organizations with a lot of employee turnover or volunteer employees and seek out office equipment model numbers or the name of a purchasing agent so that they can send a bill that has the correct information on it, increasing the chances that it will mistakenly gets paid.

"Never give out any information, unless you're completely sure to whom you're speaking," Lakatos said.

The toner pirates often send products, even though they are generic and are many times much smaller than they should be, Lakatos said.

"There is no technical fraud," Lakatos said. "If a business receives a product, there's nothing anyone can do."

Lakatos said fraudulent companies usually target larger cities, but have hit smaller towns like Payson about every six months. Their success can mainly be attributed to the lack of information that new employees or volunteers have.

"No bottle of toner will ever cost more than $125," Lakatos said. "There isn't one out there. Some color cartridges are a little more, but will never be more than $225."

Lakatos said business owners should pay attention to who is requesting information and not to give out model numbers for fax machines and copiers or names of office employees, if there is a question about who is asking for the information.

"They'll sound professional and they'll use the name of a manager or president and call different branches," Lakatos said. "They will sometimes get angry or rude over the phone, if they are not given the information they are seeking."

Lakatos said that local churches have been hit recently, as well as charitable organizations.

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