Bogus billing headed off at W-H as BBB warns of scam
By Tracy F. Seelye, Express editor
Fake invoices for unordered supplies are appearing in area schools as the Better Business Bureau has issued a warning to schools and districts across the country after the consumer group fielded complaints from 27 states, including Massachusetts.
Fake invoices have already been received by the Whitman-Hanson Regional School District, where the district’s purchase order system has prevented them from being paid, according to W-H Business Services Manager Christine Suckow.
“It’s all over the South Shore,” Suckow said. Two of the fake invoices have been received by WHRSD schools — one at Duval School and another directed to Maquan.
Suckow said invoices coming in to W-H principals must match up with purchase orders, which the two in question did not. She does not rule out the possibility that more fake invoices may still be received, but stressed the checks and balances of the accounting system protects the district.
“The principals know what they order because it goes through a requisition process,” Suckow said. “If it doesn’t have a P.O. number, we question it.”
In the past few weeks, there has been a rush of complaints filed with BBB against “Scholastic School Supply,” which claim either a Nevada or New Jersey address that turn out to be mail drops.
The BBB has urged that schools not to pay the invoices but to send them to the local Postal Inspector and the Federal Trade Commission, as well as their state’s attorney general or consumer protection agency.
So far, none of the complainants have sent money; however, BBB has no way of knowing if any schools have unknowingly paid the invoice, since they would not have filed a complaint.
“Many of our customers have received invoices from a company calling itself ‘Scholastic School Supply,” read a statement issued by the global children’s publishing, education and media company. “Scholastic School Supply is not affiliated with Scholastic Inc., but rather is a company that is using Scholastic’s name and trademark without authorization. Scholastic recently became aware of this company and its actions, and has demanded that they cease and desist using Scholastic’s name and trademark, which they have agreed to do, but they seemingly have not done so as of the date of this communication.”
In addition, Scholastic stated it has been investigating this company and will continue to do so.
“If we determine that this company is allegedly violating any other laws or regulations, we will take prompt, appropriate action,” a company spokesman stated. “However, in the course of our investigation and through conversations with our customers who have brought this company to our attention, it appears that numerous schools and districts have referred “Scholastic School Supply” to various state attorneys general and the U.S. Postal Inspector in Nevada and New Jersey for further investigation.”
BBB Serving Southern Nevada received its first complaint against Scholastic School Supply on Aug. 20, 2014 and since then has received nearly 70 complaints from schools across the country. The company’s online BBB Business Review has also received more than 3,000 inquiries; there is an Alert posted there so that visitors are able to confirm the suspicious nature of the invoice. The company maintains a mail drop in Sewell, New Jersey, as well as Las Vegas, and BBB New Jersey has received more than 20 complaints so far.
The bogus invoices have been for $647.50 for the bulk purchase of “English-Language Arts Practice Books” or $388.50 for math workbooks (although the amounts and products could change at any time). Complainants have said they cannot reach the company to inquire about the products or amounts allegedly owed, and all have denied ever doing business with the company previously, according to the BBB.
To date, BBB has received complaints from schools in 27 states: Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin. Due to BBB’s process for handling complaints, which gives a business up to a month to respond, the complaints received to date are still considered pending.
“Contact information available on the invoices was initially just going unanswered, but now email is bouncing and the phone number has been disconnected,” the BBB stated. “BBB has been unable to locate any corporation filings, business licensing, or documentation to substantiate a physical location in Nevada.”
Earlier this week, an agent in New Jersey filed as a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) under the same company name, and the BBB there is investigating the connection. The UPS Store in Las Vegas is a BBB Accredited Business and is cooperating with the Postal Inspector and other agencies investigating the scheme.
To find out more about scams or to report one, check out BBB Scam Stopper.