Washington State University was blanketed this fall by invoices from a company called US-Telcom. A Sammamish Montessori School, a Seattle Jewish day school and a Spokane women’s health clinic all received similar legitimate-looking invoices from the company for as much as $425. But none of those receiving the bills had ever ordered services from US-Telecom.
“I called the company as I have never received a bill from them before,” an administrator at the Spokane Clinic wrote in a complaint to the Attorney General. She sent a check because a US-Telcom representative told her the bill was for telephone equipment and maintenance. “The check has been cashed. A little over a week later it was reported that this was a scam.”
Most of those receiving the invoices didn’t fall for them. Instead, they contacted state authorities and the Better Business Bureau, both of which issued warnings in recent months. Today the Ontario, California-based company behind the invoices — UST Development, Inc.— agreed to stop sending them.
“None of the small businesses, schools, charities or government agencies we heard from had ever purchased services from this company,” said Assistant Attorney General Sarah Shifley, who brokered the agreement. “UST complied with our demand that they stop the invoices.”
Shifley added that the Attorney General’s Office believes the fake invoices violate the Consumer Protection Act’s restriction on unfair and deceptive practices. In an Assurance of Discontinuance filed in Thurston County Superior Court, the company maintains it did nothing wrong. However, it agrees to stop:
· Advertising, soliciting, selling or offering to sell merchandise or services through the use of any mailings or other communications that could be interpreted to be a bill, invoice, or statement of account due;
· Soliciting payment from consumers for goods or services that they have not yet ordered; and/or,
· Soliciting using untrue, deceptive, or misleading representations.
“We want businesses and consumers to know that they should carefully review every invoice and every bill before sending a payment,” said Shifley. “We’re on the lookout for violations of state consumer protection laws, but businesses and consumers are their own best lines of defense.”