Firms Warned About Fake Invoices

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Jason Simon and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office in Florida are on the lookout for a Tampa-based scammer who has been mailing fake invoices to Simon's card deck advertisers.


Last week, Simon, general manager of card deck publisher Simon Direct, East Brunswick, NJ, still was hearing reports from his clients that they had received a mysterious invoice from a company called the Small Business Marketing Group in Tampa, FL. The invoice, dated March 20, 1998, requests $2,795 for a card deck ad that went out to 150,000 people but does not reveal which company produced the card deck.


Some clients, uncertain as to which card deck the invoice was referring, called the toll-free number provided. They were greeted by an answering machine welcoming them to the Small Business Marketing Group, "home of the Coupon Book," and were invited to leave a message.


"I said to myself, 'Who the heck is the Coupon Book?' " recalled John Tressler, president of Martguild, Chagrin Falls, OH, which produces such advertising specialties as custom metal key tags, pins and paperweights.


An hour after Tressler left a message, a man called Bill Martin returned his call and said he worked in customer service at the Small Business Marketing Group. Tressler told him that he used many card deck publishers and was uncertain to which one the invoice applied.


Martin replied that the bill was for the Visual Horizons deck -- which is published by Simon Direct -- but was unable to provide more information. Martin told Tressler that he would ask accounts payable to pull the paper work and get back to him. Nobody called back.


"In any event, I wasn't going to pay it," Tressler said. "I've never been cheated like this before. I've been cheated in the card deck business -- I've had decks that never dropped or it took a year to get the deck out, but I never got a fake invoice before. With the hundreds of decks we have been in, I can only remember maybe two or perhaps three decks that have been a problem. I think that's a pretty good record."


Carla Steinbrunner, vice president and general manager of Associated Photo, Florence, KY, which provides replacement specialty light bulbs, also called the toll-free number, reached Bill Martin and asked what the invoice was for.


"The only name he could come up with, after much stumbling around and saying that his company worked for a lot of different card deck publishers, was Visual Horizons, even though we weren't scheduled to be on that one," Steinbrunner said.


She asked Martin to fax the insertion order but never heard from him again.


"It looks like someone got a hold of one of the card decks and just started sending the invoices out to every company in the deck, hoping that they would pay," Simon said, adding that none of his advertisers paid the bill.


He believes that the Small Business Marketing Group may have received the card deck in the mail and called Simon Direct pretending to be an interested advertiser, thus getting hold of the circulation figure.


"I think that this is something going on out there, and it's something to be concerned about," Simon said.


Bob Petschow, an attorney in Hillsborough County, warns that such scams are on the rise across the nation. Scammers typically send fake invoices to companies for card decks, toner, paper or cleaning supplies in the hope that careless accounting departments will pay without a second thought.


"It makes perfect sense to me that if you have a corporation that deals with multimillion-dollar budgets for different functions then an invoice for $100 for a case of toner may well get paid if someone doesn't check on it," Petschow said. "I don't think it's a long-term crime that you can keep doing over, it's probably hit-and-run."


<I>DM News<I>' calls to the Small Business Marketing Group were not returned.
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