Wait—Don’t pay that invoice!
It’s important to pay legitimate bills promptly when they arrive. But there are some bills you shouldn’t pay at all. Across North Carolina, small businesses and even government agencies have been hit recently by scams that use phony invoices to try to get them to pay money they don’t really owe. The scammers are hoping that you’ll simply pay the bogus bills without checking them out.
My office just got a California company to return $90,000 in checks it had collected from small businesses in North Carolina in response to illegitimate invoices. The company had misled hundreds of businesses into thinking they had failed to comply with state laws on taking and filing corporate minutes and convinced them to pay $125 each. We also got a court order banning the company, Corporate Services, Inc.,
from operating in our state.
Unfortunately, that isn’t the only invoice scam out there. For example, businesses across the country are reporting getting phony invoices demanding $425 in payment for telecom maintenance from a company called UST or US Telecom. State government agencies in North Carolina have recently received 25 of the trick invoices. When contacted, the company claims the invoices are designed to bring in new business—something they’re supposed to disclose on the mailing under federal law.
Other invoice scams start with a call to the business, supposedly to conduct a survey. But the survey is just a ruse to get information so they can send you a fake invoice.
One of these recent scams calls employees under the guise of a survey and gets them to disclose their date of birth and agree to receive a free newsletter. Once the newsletter arrives, so does an invoice for $399. If the business balks at paying, the scammers use the employee’s date of birth to try to prove that the company approved the order and say that the company has missed the 30-day cancellation period.
Another similar scam starts with a survey call that records the employee saying “yes” to various questions. A few days or weeks later, the business gets a sham invoice in the mail. If the business fights the charges, the scammers produce a recording where they’ve spliced the employee’s “yes” answers to follow questions asking if the employee agrees to the charges.
To combat invoice scams, make sure your company has proper procedures in place for paying invoices and that invoices aren’t just being paid by the first person who happens to open the mail.
And if you get a questionable invoice, do a little detective work before you pay it:
- Contact my Consumer Protection Division at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM and ask if we’ve received any complaints about the company.
- Search the company’s name online, and add the word “scam” to the search to see what pops up.
- Contact the company that issued the invoice and ask for a purchase order or other supporting documents.
- Ask around within your company or agency. If you can’t find anyone who knows about the company or the services it allegedly provided, put away that checkbook.
- If you get survey calls, ask questions about the purpose of the survey, how your responses will used, and avoid giving out personal information, such as your date of birth.
- If you spot a phony invoice scam or believe you may have paid one by mistake, let us know. We may be able to help get your money back. Call us toll-free within North Carolina at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or file a complaint online at www.ncdoj.gov.