How to spot invoice scams that look like they mean business: Internet Scambusters #280
Invoice scams — bills for goods and services you’ve never
ordered or received — rake in billions of dollars for
fraudsters every year.
Oftentimes they look like the genuine article but are actually
phony. They’re not invoices but offers — what the law calls
“solicitations” — that you can ignore. Other times they are
genuine but either overcharge you or add items you didn’t get.
This week, we explain five of the most common types of invoice
scams and show you how to protect yourself. They’re not
difficult to spot or avoid — if you know what you’re looking for.
But first, we highly recommend you check out this week’s issue
of Scamlines –
What’s New in Scams?
Also, you may want to spend a moment looking at this week’s
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Now, here we go…
Invoice scams: 5 tricks fraudsters use to get your money
Invoice scams, where you get billed either for something you
haven’t bought or for massively more than you thought, succeed
mainly because people don’t look too closely when they receive
them or because they unknowingly gave the scammer the right to
charge whatever he wants.
These invoice scams come in a variety of guises. Here are the
five main groups to watch out for.
Invoice scam #1: Directory listings.
There are many variations of the directory invoice scam. Most
seem to be a bill for a listing in the “Yellow Pages.” They
look official, using the Yellow Pages name and the “walking
fingers” logo. But neither of these is a registered trademark
– anyone can use them.
The scammers might include a clipping of a previous ad — taken
from a legitimate directory — with “Renewal” printed on the
invoice. And sometimes they might even print a directory, to
keep it legal, but it’s usually poor quality, with limited
Another invoice scam appears to be a bill for listing your name
in a “worthy” publication of VIPs — college alumni or
executive listings, that sort of thing. The scammer might send
an invoice but the cute ones say the listing is free if you
sign and return the “notification.”
What you’re actually doing is agreeing to buy the high-price
directory when it’s printed. It’ll be delivered “per your
order” and you’ll have to pay.
Action: Spike these scammers by scrutinizing any directory
“invoice.” Read every word. Check the name with any directory
you’ve previously advertised in. Look for the words “This is
not a bill. It is a solicitation.”
Invoice scam # 2: Domain renewal notices.
We’ve written about this invoice
domain name scam in the past, but it’s
becoming increasingly common as more of us register our names
or create websites.
A few months before the domain registration is about to expire,
you get a “renewal notice” from an official sounding “registry”
via snail mail and/or email, warning that if you don’t pay
you’ll lose the domain name.
Oftentimes they say you need to re-register for a lengthy
period or suggest added services you must have. Whatever the
“come-on,” they always charge inflated prices and, if you pay,
may or may not renew your domain registration.
Action: Sidestep this scam by shredding the notice. The only
legitimate renewal notice comes from the company you registered
your domain name through in the first place. Keep a note of
their name handy.
Invoice scam #3: Paying through the nose.
There are a number of invoice scams where you either get
overcharged for a service you paid for or where some of the
items or work you pay for is never done.
Favorites are locksmiths who rescue you after you lock yourself
out of your car or home. You’re in such a panic at the time, you
either don’t ask the charge or sign a document that commits you
A cruel variation is the invoice presented to you at the front
door of your new home when the furniture arrives. It’s for way
more than you thought you agreed and the mover threatens to
confiscate your furniture if you don’t pay.
Another common trick is for auto repair shops to bill you for
work and parts they didn’t provide.
Action: Avoid these scams by only using reputable businesses
for these important jobs and never sign a document you haven’t
read from beginning to end, no matter how much of a hurry
Invoice scam #4: Magazine subscriptions.
You get an invoice for renewing a magazine subscription. If you
already receive the publication, you may think nothing of it
and pay up. If you’re suspicious and read more closely, you’ll
find it’s actually inviting you to subscribe.
It doesn’t come from the publisher but a third party
subscription service who may or may not be legit. Sometimes,
there’s an offer to supply a free copy but you still must give
your credit card details for a full subscription “which you can
cancel at any time.”
Your card, of course, will be charged and you might get the
magazine, but you’ll pay way more than you need to and find it
difficult to cancel — the scammers don’t give you a phone
Action: Don’t be fooled. Read the “invoice.” Don’t pay if
you’re not a subscriber or if it’s not a genuine renewal notice
from the publisher. If you want to try a magazine, visit its
website or get a subscription card from inside a current issue.
Invoice scam #5: Mystery office supplies.
An invoice scammer was recently convicted of sending phony
invoices for non-existent fluorescent lighting to hundreds of
US businesses. He cleared $700,000 before he got caught.
The reason is simple: busy accounts departments and inefficient
firms assume if they get a bill, they must have ordered the
More sophisticated tricksters make sales calls to companies to
collect names of decision makers that they then include on the
invoice to make it appear legit. Others send unordered,
low-quality office supplies together with an invoice for an
Action: The solution is simple — issue purchase order numbers
for all purchases and check all invoices against the original
orders. Be wary of anything else.
Let’s recap on what we’ve learned here:
Just because something looks official or genuine doesn’t mean
Read everything before you sign.
Use reputable businesses; if it’s a new name, check them out.
And give yourself a pat on the back every time you spot an
invoice scam and save your money!
That’s it for today — we hope you enjoy your week!