Invoice Scams Target Local Schools

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Scams can target anyone — even local school districts — as has become evident over the past week.

On Friday, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office set out an advisory warning schools in the state of phony invoices for books and materials that the districts had not purchased.

“Schools are saying they’re receiving invoices for books they never ordered,” Attorney General Mike DeWine said in the release. “We want Ohioans to be aware of this potential scam, so that no Ohio school districts end up paying for something they never ordered or received.”

The attorney general’s office has received at least six complaints about these invoices since Tuesday of last week but, according to reports, many additional schools have been affected.

In the complaints filed with the Attorney General’s Office, schools say they received an invoice in the mail from Scholastic School Supply for books they never ordered. For example, the invoice may say the school owes $647.50 for 50 English-Language Arts Practice Book. The invoice requests payment on or before Sept. 15, 2014. Scholastic School Supply lists an address of 1350 E. Flamingo Rd. in Las Vegas, but it does not appear to be associated with the Scholastic Corporation.

Locally, at least two districts — Trimble and Federal Hocking — have received the fraudulent invoices.

Treasurers at both districts confirmed their district had received an invoice like the one described in the release. Both also stated that the district did not pay the invoice.

Trimble Local Treasurer Cindy Rhonemus stated that the district had received one invoice regarding the scam, as did Federal Hocking Treasurer Bruce Steenrod.

Steenrod said that the district had been notified last week by another district treasurer of the phony invoices and therefore were aware of the scam prior to receiving the invoice on Wednesday.

Rhonemus echoed that statement, saying via email, “We received one invoice regarding the scam, but since we had already known about it, we did not pay it. With the internal controls we have set up, we would not have paid it anyway.”

Steenrod also stated that with the nature of the invoice it would have went unpaid regardless of the prior notification.

“We didn’t have that vendor on file and there was no purchase order on file for the items,” said Steenrod.

The invoices received locally did not have a school purchase order on them or a staff member’s name as to who purchased the items.

“Since they are bogus invoices, in that case then, the invoice would have been sent back to the company with either a phone call asking for our purchase order number or the staff member who ordered it along with proof of delivery to our school. They would not have been able to provide that information. So the burden of proof would be on the company to provide that information to us. In the state of Ohio, a school is not liable for payment unless there is a legitimate signed purchase order,” said Rhonemus.

Generally in an invoice scam, the scammer sends a phony invoice hoping the organization will pay before realizing it never ordered or received the products.

Scammers often use names that are similar to well-known businesses to make their scams seem legitimate. For example, businesses sometimes receive invoices for “Yellow Page” advertisements they never placed.

Schools and other organizations should remember the following tips to avoid potential scams:

-Encourage your treasurer to watch for invoice scams.

-Make sure the invoice is coming from a valid source.

-Check out the company that is sending the invoice.

-Centralize purchasing and billing so that the person or persons paying the invoices know what was ordered and who the vendors are.

-Do a basic Internet search to see if other organizations have reported similar problems.

-Report potential scams to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at 800-282-0515 or