I am now officially back on the Job Hunt. I don’t think it’s a big secret that I wasn’t particularly happy working at the Evil Toner Scam place, but Mrs. Boss still found a way to be scuzzy about it. I gave her a note saying that I would be looking elsewhere after 30 days, and was canned after three. To celebrate my newfound ‘freedom,’ here are some clues to help you recognize Toner Scammers should they contact you, and how to avoid becoming their victim.
Know Thy Enemy - “What kind of copier did you guys have?”
Your first contact with a Toner Scammer is likely going to be a Model Number Person. This person has two responsibilities: they want to find out what kind of copier you have (or verify that it’s what they think it should be - more on this later) and they want to be as forgettable as is humanly possible. They aren’t going to give you any information that would make it easy for you to connect them with the other steps.
“Hi! I just wanted to double-check and make sure you guys still have the same machine. What’s the model number on the copier over there?”
If they’re lucky, you’ll just say “it’s an Image Runner 3300″ and they’ll thank you and hang up. If you ask them who they are, or what company they work for, they’ll try to give you a vague non-answer. A common one at my old workplace was “I’m at the distribution center, we’re updating the manuals.” Even now, I’m not exactly sure what that’s supposed to mean.
Fending Off the Model Number Person:
This is actually pretty easy: press the identity issue. If you follow up the ‘distribution center’ nonsense with “I’m sorry, what COMPANY do you work for?” you’ve forced them into a corner where, depending on how clean the operation is, they’ll either hang up or lie. You’ve decreased the likelihood that the Salesperson will call you, but you haven’t ensured that they won’t. Rule #1 - and we’ll be hearing this a lot - is Don’t Tell Them Anything if You Don’t Know Who They Are.
Know Thy Enemy - “I was supposed to give you 30 days notice….”
Some Toner Rooms don’t use Model Number People for various reasons - but they NEED Salespeople. The fact that they refer to themselves as Salespeople (and to their victims as ‘customers’) is one of the things that I really had to ignore to keep working there - you know, if I wanted to sleep at night.
There are some variations in the Pitch the Salesperson is going to lob at you, but fewer than you might think. At my Toner Room, the pitch went something like this:
Hi, am I speaking to *Laura*? Are you still in charge of ordering the toner for the *Xerox DC 420*? Laura, how are you this morning? Listen, I’m calling from the warehouse where we ship your supplies, and I need to apologize to you. The prices on all the toner products is going up at the end of the month; now your contract states that you must be notified of any changes in pricing, in writing, 30 days in advance. Obviously, that didn’t happen in your case, and as the manager I take full responsibility for that. To make it up for you, I went ahead and allocated two boxes for you at your old rate, ok? Now in the next day or so, you’re going to get a call from Shipping. They’re going to ask for you and verify your information - make sure it’s heading out to the right person, you know? Thank you so much, and I’m glad I was able to help you out.”
There are lots of little differences that you might hear from person to person - but that’s the basic structure. They want you to think that you’re talking to the company you normally deal with for toner, they want you to think this isn’t a very big deal - and they want you to think that they’re on your side.
Fending off the Salesperson:
Again, your most powerful protection is knowing who it is on the other end of the phone - or rather, knowing who it isn’t. There is a magical mantra that will scare off the Toner Scammers at any stage of the game: “Who do you work for?”
I’ve seen Salespeople hang up on people - often with a nasty remark - after being asked who they work for. Of course, that was at my place, which actually tried to toe some distant moral line. Many places will simply lie to you and say that they’re calling from Canon or Xerox or whatever. If you are unsure about the identity of your caller, or are for any reason uncomfortable, simply ask for a number that you can call them back at. You could also simply hang up, but trust me, both will amount to the same. As I hinted above, Model Number People may be more persistent at this point, but keep pushing and you’ll put them in a spot where they’ll either lie or say something stupid, or just move on.
These people are hoping that they can get in touch with someone who doesn’t know your company’s approved vendors, or who doesn’t know which vendors provide service contracts. You can help protect yourself by ensuring that your staff either has that information, or that they are instructed to refer all calls regarding supplies to approved individuals.
Know Thy Enemy - “Do you mind if I record this conversation?”
This is one of the more insidious parts of the operation. The Salespeople are basically going to be lying out the wazoo during their conversation with you, but a day or two later, you’ll get another call. The Verifier is going to be very friendly, but they are also going to speak very quickly. They are going to ask for the person the Salesperson originally spoke to, and they are going to ask if they can record the conversation. The Verifier will then lay out the proposed ’sale,’ and they are actually going to quote the price and the shipping costs and whatever else. They record it so that, should you raise objections later, the only actual recording of the entire process will show them explicitly describing the deal, and you agreeing to it.
Fending off the Verifier:
This is your best chance to be rid of the Scammers, and in a way that will keep them from bothering you again - at least for a while. If you tell the Verifier that you refuse the order, it kills the process and causes a lot of emnity in the Scammer office (which should be considered a kind of bonus.) If you tell the Verifier that you have a contract with a copier supplier, you may well be placed on their Do Not Call list. Take advantage of this possibility.
Know Thy Enemy - “My records show that you placed an order with Ms. Martin for two cartridges….”
Should the cartridge actually arrive at your office, things will get tougher. At my company, standard procedure was to reship any box which was refused or shipped back without notice, at which point the Collection Guy gets involved. The Collection Guy is going to use a lot of sleazy little tricks to make you pay, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’ve been scammed. Unfortunately, the business world of the moment makes it a lot easier to get a company in credit trouble then for that same company to clear their name. Our little slice of hell actually used Dun & Bradstreet to go after ‘delinquents.’ The Dark Side is strong.
Fending off The Collection Guy:
At our place, the back of the packing slip had a clause that any item could be refused if returned within three days of receipt. Of course, if our Collection Guy called you, you would have to quote that clause - he wasn’t going to volunteer that information. Read everything that comes with the package - if there’s an easy out, take it. Beyond that, you’re going to have to take matters into your own hands. Write a letter explaining that you believe you’ve been scammed, and that you aren’t going to pay anything. Demand that the pick up the items, or that you will accept the item and any future packages as a “free gift.” (Look this one up on Google; in a nutshell, you aren’t required to pay for anything that is shipped to you unsolicited.)
Tell them you’re going to contact the Attorney General in your jurisdiction, then follow up. Tell them you’re going to contact the Better Business Bureau, then follow up. They’re going to make a lot of threatening statements, but remember: the law really is on your side. And relax; you’re not dealing with the intellectual cream of the crop.
There are a few other surprises the Toner Scammers might spring on you - The Reorder Person being my personal favorite - but if you keep this information in mind, you should be safe. Good luck!