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Businesses lose thousands to phony invoice scam

Posted: 10:33 PM, Jan 29, 2016
Updated: 2016-01-29 23:35:25-05

You may want to pay closer attention to the invoices you receive in the mail.

According to the Better Business Bureau, scammers are targeting people through bogus bills that look real.

Once they trick you into paying up, the fake bills keep coming.

“It’s all scare tactics,” Helen DePasquale, owner of Natures Healing Day Spa said. “Looking back now, I could see what the guy was doing but back then, I was scared.”

DePasquale learned just how easy it is to be tricked into paying for something she never ordered.

Her troubles started after receiving an advertising renewal invoice she thought was from Yellow Pages.

She called the number on the bill to inquire about the service.

“The guy told me I had to pay ‘x’ amount of dollars or they would renew my contract,” she said.

DePasquale says the representative told her if she didn’t want her membership renewed, she had to pay $800 through a pre-paid card.

Investigators say thieves prefer this method because the money is available immediately and it’s often untraceable. Pre-paid cards are generally “not refundable” after they are purchased.

DePasquale paid the $800, but then realized she was duped after taking a closer look at the invoice.

“Here is the invoice, it says YPOL Publishing Company,” she said. “It’s not Yellow Pages.”

The invoice uses a logo resembling Yellow Pages, but they are not affiliated with the company.

“It is very lucrative because of the fact that people don’t have to put much money into making the invoices,” U.S. Postal Inspector Francis Pilon said. “For the price of a first-class stamp, they can send out thousands or hundreds of thousands of them and if they only get a small percentage back, they are still making money."

Even the Better Business Bureau became a recent target after receiving a letter asking for money to renew a domain name that was expiring.

However, the letter was not addressed directly to the BBB or a member of the BBB which is a red flag.

Enclosed in the fine print is a sentence notifying the BBB the letter “is not a bill”. Instead, it was a solicitation to provide future advertising services disguised as what most people would think is a bill.

“It’s important for people to read the fine print,” BBB CEO Ran Hoth said. “Our BBB office in Appleton caught onto this immediately.”

Hoth says just because an invoice may look real on the surface by using company logos and listing their address and contact information, business owners need to do their research before writing a check for an invoice they don’t recognize.

Invoices sent to you that aren’t addressed to a specific person or contain numerous misspellings are key red flags.

Also, legitimate invoices will never ask a customer to send a payment through a wire transfer or pre-paid card.

DePasquale now knows to look at every invoice carefully. To avoid confusion with invoices that come to her office from an out-of-state address, she only does business and advertising with local companies in southeast Wisconsin.

If you receive what you believe to be a phony invoice in the mail, you should report it to the Better Business Bureau through their new scam tracker web page. https://www.bbb.org/scamtracker/us

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service investigates all mail fraud cases and turns over its findings to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for prosecution.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office says they do not track how many cases they’ve prosecuted that have resulted in a conviction.

Mail fraud carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine per count.

In addition to reporting scams to the Better Business Bureau, you can file a mail fraud complaint with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service here. “It’s all scare tactics,” Helen DePasquale, owner of Natures Healing Day Spa said. “Looking back now, I could see what the guy was doing but back then, I was scared.”

DePasquale learned just how easy it is to be tricked into paying for something she never ordered.

Her troubles started after receiving an advertising renewal invoice she thought was from Yellow Pages.

She called the number on the bill to inquire about the service.

“The guy told me I had to pay ‘x’ amount of dollars or they would renew my contract,” she said.

DePasquale says the representative told her if she didn’t want her membership renewed, she had to pay $800 through a pre-paid card.

Investigators say thieves prefer this method because the money is available immediately and it’s often untraceable. Pre-paid cards are generally “not refundable” after they are purchased.

DePasquale paid the $800, but then realized she was duped after taking a closer look at the invoice.

“Here is the invoice, it says YPOL Publishing Company,” she said. “It’s not Yellow Pages.”

The invoice uses a logo resembling Yellow Pages, but they are not affiliated with the company.

“It is very lucrative because of the fact that people don’t have to put much money into making the invoices,” U.S. Postal Inspector Francis Pilon said. “For the price of a first-class stamp, they can send out thousands or hundreds of thousands of them and if they only get a small percentage back, they are still making money."

Even the Better Business Bureau became a recent target after receiving a letter asking for money to renew a domain name that was expiring.

However, the letter was not addressed directly to the BBB or a member of the BBB which is a red flag.

Enclosed in the fine print is a sentence notifying the BBB the letter “is not a bill”. Instead, it was a solicitation to provide future advertising services disguised as what most people would think is a bill.

“It’s important for people to read the fine print,” BBB CEO Ran Hoth said. “Our BBB office in Appleton caught onto this immediately.”

Hoth says just because an invoice may look real on the surface by using company logos and listing their address and contact information, business owners need to do their research before writing a check for an invoice they don’t recognize.

Invoices sent to you that aren’t addressed to a specific person or contain numerous misspellings are key red flags.