The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) is warning businesses nationwide to be on the lookout for questionable bills from a company called AYPR Inc, which claims an address in Duluth.
Complainants have stated the company is billing them for services they never ordered or authorized. Due to suspect business practices and a pattern of complaints, the BBB has given the company an “F,” their lowest rating.
AYPR Inc. claims to publish a business directory and attempts to charge businesses for being listed or featured in that directory. However, in many schemes of this nature, businesses are tricked into paying for services they weren’t interested in or something for which they didn’t know they would be charged, the BBB stated. Some complainants say the person AYPR claims authorized their billing no longer works for them or is not the person such authorizations would go through, the BBB reported.
“We often see these directory billing schemes and far too often legitimate businesses fall for them, assuming the company has provided them a service of some kind,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota, in a news release. “This is a good reminder for all companies of the importance of a verification system in their accounts payable departments.”
In addition to the address the company claims in Duluth — which is a mail shipping and services store — the BBB has learned that AYPR is also claiming addresses in: Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.
Directory schemes begin when companies are contacted by phone asked a few vague questions “for verification purposes” or else they receive an innocuous fax which asks them to confirm basic company information and fax the form back to the sender.
However, employees often don’t realize that by simply providing this information they will be opening the door to future billings. Most of these faxes also have language buried in the fine print which states that by signing and faxing in the form businesses are agreeing to be charged for representation in directories — which may or may not exist — at a cost of hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year.
These scammers will also sometimes pretend to verify or renew a company’s “existing” directory listing, the BBB reported. They then send as many urgent invoices as it takes to get paid, sometimes including a useless “directory,” sometimes not. They create confusion and count on an organization paying to avoid their hounding, the BBB stated. When companies refuse to pay, the scammers may use high-pressure tactics, like bullying or threatening collection or legal action. Sometimes, they offer “a better deal” with a phony discount. Or, if a business received a directory, they may allow them to return it (if they pay the shipping costs), but insist on being paid for the so-called listing. In any case, if a business pays for their “listing,” they likely will receive additional invoices — either from the same scam artists or from others who have purchased their company’s contact information, the BBB reported.
The BBB and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggest a few simple precautions to put an end to paying for goods or services you haven’t ordered.
■ Designate certain employees as buyers. For each order, the designated buyer should issue a purchase order to the supplier that has an authorized signature and a purchase order number. The purchase order can be electronic or written. The order form should tell the supplier to put the purchase order number on the invoice and bill of lading. The buyer also should send a copy of every purchase order to the accounts payable department, and keep blank order forms secure.
■ Train Your Staff. Advise employees who are not authorized to order supplies and services to say, “I’m not authorized to place orders. If you want to sell us something, you must speak to ________ and get a purchase order.”
Establish a team of employees who order and receive merchandise or services and those who pay the bills to develop some standard procedures.
■ Check all documentation before you pay bills. If you receive merchandise, the receiving employee should verify that the merchandise matches the shipper’s bill of lading and your purchase order. Pay special attention to brands and quantity, and refuse any merchandise that doesn’t match up or isn’t suitable. Don’t pay any supplier unless the invoice has the correct purchase order number, and the information on the invoice matches the purchase order.
■ Know Your Rights. If you receive supplies or bills for services you didn’t order, don’t pay. Don’t return unordered merchandise, either. Treat any unordered merchandise you receive, like a business directory or even office supplies, as a gift. It’s illegal for a seller to send you bills or dunning notices for merchandise you didn’t order or ask you to send back the merchandise — even if the seller offers to pay the shipping costs.
Report Fraud. If a business directory scam, or other business product or service scam, has struck your organization, file a complaint with the BBB, bbb.org, and the FTC, ftc.gov. You also may report scams to the Postal Inspection Service and your state attorney general.
The mission of the Better Business Bureau is to be the leader in building marketplace trust by promoting, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, assist and protect the general public. We are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact the BBB at bbb.org or 800-646-6222.