immediate release -- Friday, February 12, 1999.
Bob Brammer -- 515-281-6699
Miller Files Suit Against Alleged "Toner Pirate"
lawsuit alleges California company ran "a classic toner pirate operation"
to cheat businesses in the sale of copy machine toner.
DES MOINES -- Attorney General Tom Miller said today
that the State Consumer Protection Division has filed a lawsuit against
a California company alleging "a classic toner pirate operation" of the
type that has plagued businesses for years.
"Toner pirates" typically
telephone small businesses and other offices and use deception to induce
victims into switching their copy machine toner supply orders to the scam
artists -- at exorbitant prices. Toner is the dry powder ink used in most
Named in the lawsuit are: Corporate Office Supply, Inc., or COS, of 12623
Imperial Highway, Suite 203, Santa Fe Springs, California 90670; Holly
Diane LeBlanc of South El Monte CA, president and owner of Corporate Office
Supply; and Karen Mora, Michelle Nunez, and Catherine Marie Vallett (AKA
Cathy Simms), all employees of COS.
"We allege this is a flat-out scheme designed to deceive and cheat small
businesses and other offices," Miller said.
The suit, which was filed Thursday afternoon in Polk County District Court,
asks the Court to issue an injunction, order restitution to Iowa victims,
order the defendants to "disgorge" money acquired from the alleged scheme,
and assess a civil penalty up to $40,000 per violation per defendant.
Miller urged any victims to contact his office.
The alleged "toner pirate" price-increase pitch:
Miller said the State's lawsuit alleges Corporate Office Supply used a
classic "price-increase pitch," which involves several elements. An initial
phone call to the targeted office creates the false impression that the
caller represents the office's usual toner supplier. The caller asks for
the model number of the copier. The caller then says that the price of
toner for that model is going up sharply -- but that the supplier has
saved some back at the old, lower price if the business will only make
a quick order. If victims place an order, they may learn later that the
caller actually did not represent the business's regular supplier, that
there was no price increase, that the so-called "current" charge is highly
inflated, and that their new bill for toner is up to four times higher
than a typical price.
The suit alleges that Corporate Office Supply victims "may not realize
that their supply line has been commandeered by a 'toner pirate' and may
pay grossly inflated toner prices to COS on a continuing basis."
The lawsuit states that a wide range of offices are targeted by such schemes,
including small businesses and professional offices, churches and synagogues,
charities, associations, and government offices.
"Office supply schemes have been preying on Iowans for years," Miller
said of toner pirate and other office-supply scams. "Offices need to be
on guard to avoid being cheated."
Tips to avoid being cheated by "toner pirates":
Miller said office-supply schemes can involve toner, paper, lighting,
and cleaning supplies. He said offices should take several steps to avoid
becoming victims of such schemes:
Train everyone who answers the phone to recognize phony office supply
Instruct employees not to provide information to unfamiliar callers about
office copiers or other supply needs and arrangements. Don't give names
of office managers or persons responsible for purchasing (toner pirates
may mention those names in a later call.)
Designate one person to be in charge of or oversee ordering and paying
bills. Always review invoices and payments to avoid phony bills or office
If a "toner pirate" or office supply scam deceives the office into placing
an order, do not accept the shipment or pay the bill. Instead, report
the incident to the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division at
Businesses also may obtain brochures and information about scams from
the Consumer Protection Division, which is cooperating with numerous Iowa
organizations in the "Office Scam Alert Project."