"Toner pirates," also known as "toner phoners," are telemarketing scammers that call businesses and try to trick them into buying toner for their copiers at exorbitant prices.

The best way to avoid toner scams is to learn how to recognize them in the first place, said Paul Smith a contract agent with WVU Medicine Procurement. It’s especially important for administrative assistants to be aware of these scams and to be wary of anyone who calls for detailed information about your office’s copier equipment.

In a typical scenario, a scammer will call in and ask for the name of the person who is in charge of office equipment. They will then ask for details, like the make and model of your copier, and may even ask for a copy count. With this information, the scammer will send toner addressed to the individual he/she spoke with. This toner will come with an inflated invoice and the company will be difficult to contact. If the invoice is not paid, expect  contact from a fake collections agency to try to bully your office into paying.

Be wary of calls from alleged vendors who insist the price of toner is about to go up, but  they are offering the opportunity to buy toner at the old price for a limited time. If the caller can secure the right information, they will proceed to send toner, along with an over-priced invoice, even if the customer never agreed to accept toner.

So how do you avoid this scam?

According to the Federal Trade Commission, employee education is the frontline defense in combating toner phoners.

Follow these easy tips:

Be skeptical of "cold" or unsolicited calls; recognize and resist high-pressure sales tactics. Make it very clear you are not interested in their offer and do so without giving out information on equipment or your organization; end the conversation before they have a chance to refute.

Be aware that our current vendor already knows the make and model numbers of all our copiers.They will not call you trying to sell additional toners or services. All of our copiers send real-time toner level notifications to our vendor. Replacement toners are automatically sent to the location of the copier when low thresholds are met.

Inspect your invoices and be sure they correspond with the goods and services you’ve actually ordered and the prices you were quoted.

Bottom line: If you suspect something may be amiss, we always suggest placing a call to our regular vendor via a trusted phone number (usually the sticker on the copier). They will be able to confirm whether or not the person calling you is legitimate. 

If you suspect you may be a victim of a toner scam and/or you have some specific questions not answered in this post, please contact Paul Smith in Procurement.