Ken Paxton
Consumer Protection

Phoner Toner Scams

Texas businesses should be alert that an old office supply scam – the “phoner toner” scam – has resurfaced in recent weeks. Several Texas Attorney General’s Office employees have reported that they received unsolicited telephone calls at work from office supply scam artists.

The “phoner toner” scam usually involves several phone calls. In the first call, the scam artist hopes to find a new or temporary employee who will freely provide information. Posing as the company’s approved vendor or even as a survey taker, the scam artist asks the employee to provide the make and model number off the nearest office printer. Faced with the seemingly harmless request, the employee unwittingly complies.

In the second call, the scam artist – who now knows the make and model of the targeted business’ office equipment – contacts a different employee under the auspices of confirming the equipment’s make and model number. During this call, solicitors make it a point to ask for the employee’s name and a street address for the business. In some cases, the solicitor may also ask the person if he or she needs toner or paper.

Sometime after that second call, toner or paper is delivered to the business address. The delivered goods usually are not of high quality nor are they name brand supplies. Then, the scam artist sends a fraudulent billing invoice – hoping that the business’ accounting department will simply pay the bill. Businesses that attempt to question the invoices are often met with vague statements claiming that “someone” at the company ordered the supplies. Other times, the scam artists give an employee’s name as well as the make and model number of the office equipment in an attempt to confirm the fraudulent order.

Educating employees is a business’ best first line of defense to these scams. Businesses should consider alerting all employees about office supply scams – not just those who work in accounting and billing departments. Business owners should also consider training employees not to authorize the ordering of any office supplies and not to schedule equipment maintenance or support services. New employees should be taught which departments or individuals are authorized to make purchases and know that they should avoid revealing any information about the company’s office equipment – even if the caller seems to be familiar with the company or other employees.

Texas businesses that receive bills for goods or services that they did not order are not obligated to pay – even if the product was delivered. Generally, these items can be considered a gift. Businesses that receive fraudulent invoices and supplies that were not ordered, or are subjected to bogus collection threats should file a complaint with the Texas Attorney General’s Office at (800) 252-8011 or online at Businesses may also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or the Better Business Bureau.

ABOUT CONSUMER ALERTS - The Office of the Attorney General accepts consumer complaints about businesses. When a pattern of complaints warrants intervention, the Attorney General can file a civil lawsuit under consumer protection statutes, sometimes with the result that a company is required to pay restitution to consumers -- see our Major Lawsuits page. However, when a consumer is swindled by a con artist, filing a complaint cannot help. Civil litigation can sometimes put a very unscrupulous business out of action, but often cannot produce restitution.

Individual con artists generally fall under the jurisdiction of a criminal prosecutor -- in Texas, this is the district or county attorney. But even when they are charged and convicted, these individuals usually have spent the money as fast as they have stolen it. A person who is the victim of fraud should report the incident to the police or sheriff. But by far the best thing is for consumers to be aware of fraud, so they are not swindled in the first place. For this reason, the Office of the Attorney General posts these Consumer Alerts about possible scams and schemes that come to our attention through citizen contacts to our office or other sources.