Veterinary practice owners and office managers should be aware of office supply scams, such as those involving receipt of unsolicited merchandise. This nationwide problem costs businesses, churches, and fraternal and charitable organizations millions of dollars each year, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
Any organization that lacks adequate purchasing controls can become a victim of an office supply scam, especially since it often involves the deceptive sale of nondurable or consumable products that are used in the course of business and are purchased on a regular basis. A business or nonprofit may be called by a company misrepresenting its identity and the cost of its office supplies, and then receive a shipment and a demand for payment of overpriced merchandise.
Veterinarians in Illinois, Nebraska, and Florida, for example, have recently reported receiving shipments of unordered latex gloves from a company based in California and invoices for what some say was an outrageous cost, according to the Illinois State VMA. Some optometry practices also reported problems with the company.
The U.S. Postal Service states that it is illegal for a company that sends unordered merchandise to follow the mailing with an invoice or dunning communication—a draft drawn on a delinquent customer and deposited with a bank for payment. Businesses that receive statements demanding payment for unordered merchandise should contact their local postmaster or nearest postal inspector.
Businesses and consumers may be sent only two types of merchandise through the mail without their consent or agreement—free samples that are clearly and conspicuously marked as such, and merchandise mailed by a charitable organization that is soliciting contributions.
By law, recipients have no obligation to the sender of unsolicited merchandise, and they may do one of three things: (1) mark the unopened package "Return to Sender" and the Postal Service will return it at no additional postage, (2) discard it, or (3) keep it for free.
The FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection suggests five steps to avoid office supply fraud. Know your rights. Assign designated buyers and document your purchases. Check all documentation before you pay the bills. Train the staff. Report fraud.
Med Life Supply Co. of Culver City, Calif., is the glove company that is the subject of the misconduct reports from veterinarians. The office manager told the AVMA news staff the company has been in business 15 years but that new management has recently "filtered out" disreputable salespersons and floor managers. Braulio Chavez, who has been with Med Life "three or four months," contends that now, a representative contacts businesses to verify that they ordered merchandise before shipping it. As for the questionable cost, he maintains the company sells the "Cadillac or Rolls Royce of gloves." Veterinary practices that were misled can contact Chavez to void an open account or request a notation not to be contacted further at (310) 313-1285, firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about office supply scams, order "Avoiding Office Supply Scams" at www.ftc.gov. Complaints can be filed at that site or by mail with the Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; phone, toll free, (877) FTC-HELP (382-4357). The commission cannot resolve individual problems for businesses or consumers but can act against a company if there is a pattern of possible law violations.