Q&A: Office Supply Scams

Is our church at risk?

I recently learned of a church in our community that was a victim of an “office supply scam.” What exactly does this mean? Are all churches vulnerable to this risk?

The Federal Trade Commission says that churches and other charities lose millions of dollars each year to this scam. Here is the FTC’s description of how it works: “The typical scam involves goods or services that a group routinely orders, such as copier paper, maintenance supplies, classified advertising, etc. Fraudulent telemarketers will call an organization and lie to get it to pay for items it didn’t order, or to get it to pay more than it agreed to for the goods. The office supplies peddled by these bogus firms are often overpriced and of poor quality and the services usually are worthless.”

To protect your church from being victimized, the FTC recommends the following steps:

  • Know your rights. In some cases the law allows you to treat unordered goods and services as a gift.
  • Review the church’s phone bills and credit card statements as soon as they arrive. Look for charges for goods and services you haven’t ordered or authorized.
  • Assign all purchases to designated staff, and document all purchases.
  • Train staff in how to respond to telemarketers. Advise employees who are not authorized to order goods and services to say, “I’m not authorized to place orders. If you want to offer or sell us something, you must speak to _____________.”
  • Buy from people you know and trust. Authorized employees should be skeptical of “cold” or unsolicited calls and feel comfortable saying “no” to high pressure sales tactics. Check out the supplier with the Attorney General or Better Business Bureau in your state or the state where the company is located before you send any money for any product or service. This is prudent, but not foolproof: there may be no record of complaints if an organization is too new or has changed its name.
  • If you think your church has been victimized, contact the Federal Trade Commission. Complaints can be filed by contacting the Consumer Response Center by phone: 1-877-FTC-HELP; by mail: Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20580; or at www.ftc.gov.
Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations." Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

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