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Be on the lookout for scams, <br />train employees to avoid being duped

Q] How can employers avoid losing precious man-hours to employees wasting time on the Internet?

A] First of all I would like to point out this question says you are looking for what is wrong. The most effective way to retain your employees is to catch them doing something right and reward them. The question should be “Are you helping your employees become the best they can be?”

Change the wasted time into a learning exercise for for yourself and your employee by assigning the employee a research project that would benefit you and the employee. Consider assigning an employee to research the Department of Labor regulations Web site on workplace health and safety or market information that can benefit your company. Allow employees time to check their e-mail as you do or should do every morning. Give a time (8 to 8:30 a.m., for example) so they have a chance to learn how to navigate the web. Help them become a part of the 21st Century. By all means, practice what you peach on Internet usage.

Q] What should businesses and non-profits to to avoid falling victim to scams?

A] Businesses, churches, and fraternal and charitable organizations are losing millions of dollars to bogus office supply firms. Any organization that lacks adequate purchasing controls can become a victim of an office supply scam. The Federal Trade Commission suggests a few simple precautions to protect organizations from paying for goods and services they didn't order, from labels to light bulbs, toner to toilet paper.

Know your rights.

If you receive supplies or bills for services you didn't order, don't pay. Don't return the unordered merchandise, either. Treat any unordered merchandise you receive as a gift. It's illegal for a seller to send you bills or dunning notices for merchandise you didn't order or ask you to send back the merchandise — even if the seller offers to pay the shipping costs. What's more, if the seller sends you items that are different from your order in brand, type, quantity, size or quality — and hasn't gotten your approval first — you may treat the substitutions as unordered merchandise. Treat unordered services the same way. At the same time, you should consider the possibility that the seller has made an honest mistake.

The FTC's Telemarketing Sales Rule offers other protections in business-to-business sales of non-durable office or cleaning supplies and most sales of goods or services to individuals, groups or associations. According to the rule, telemarketers must tell you it's a sales call — and who's doing the selling — before they make their pitch. And before you pay, they must tell you the total cost of the products or services they're offering, any restrictions on getting or using them, and whether a sale is final or non-refundable. In addition, it's against the law for telemarketers to misrepresent any information about the goods or services they're offering.

Assign designated buyers and document your purchases.

Designate certain employees as buyers. For each order, the designated buyer should issue a purchase order to the supplier that has an authorized signature and a purchase order number. The purchase order can be electronic or written. The order form should tell the supplier to put the purchase order number on the invoice and bill of lading. The buyer also should send a copy of every purchase order to the accounts payable department, and keep blank order forms secure.

Check all documentation before you pay the bills.

When merchandise arrives, the receiving employee should verify that the merchandise matches the shipper's bill of lading and your purchase order. Pay special attention to brands and quantity, and refuse any merchandise that doesn't match up or isn't suitable for your equipment. If everything is in order, the receiving employee should send a copy of the bill of lading to the accounts payable department. Reconcile bills for services the same way. That is, don't pay any supplier unless the invoice has the correct purchase order number, and the information on the invoice matches the purchase order and the bill of lading.

Train the staff.

Train all staff in how to respond to telemarketers. Advise employees who are not authorized to order supplies and services to say, “I'm not authorized to place orders. If you want to sell us something, you must speak to _______ and get a purchase order.” Establish a team that includes the employees who buy and receive merchandise or services, and those who pay the bills, and develop some standard operating “buying procedures.” For example, buy only from people you know and trust. Be skeptical of unsolicited calls and practice saying no to high pressure sales tactics. Legitimate companies don't use pressure to force a snap decision. Finally, consider asking new suppliers to send a catalog first.

Report fraud.

Report office supply scams to the FTC, or your state Attorney General, local consumer protection office or Better Business Bureau. In addition, consider sharing your experiences with other businesses in your community to help them avoid similar rip-offs.

Q] How do I find out if I need a patent, trademark or a copyright?

A] Patents, Trademarks and Copyrights are three types of intellectual property protection. They are different and serve different purposes.

Patents protect inventions and improvements to existing inventions. Trademarks include any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from goods manufactured or sold by others, and to indicate the source of the goods. Service marks include any word, name, symbol, device or any combination, used, or intended to be used in commerce, to distinguish the services of one provider from services provided by others, and to indicate the source of the services. Copyrights protect literary, artistic, and musical works. For general information, publications and other copyright related topics, go to www.copyright.gov. Copyright information can be obtained from the U.S. Copyright Office, Library of Congress, Washington, DC 20559 or you may call 202-707-3000 or 202-707-6737 (TTY).

Q] A friend of mine is advertising his store on the Internet said he has doubled his profits. Where do I find out more about Internet advertising and sales?

A] If you're thinking about advertising on the Internet, remember that many of the same rules that apply to other forms of advertising apply to electronic marketing. These rules and guidelines protect businesses and consumers - and help maintain the credibility of the Internet as an advertising medium. The first step is to learn the rules of E-Commerce.

For copies of the rules and commentaries relevant to your Internet enterprise, contact: Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, DC 20580; toll-free: 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357); TDD: 1-866-653-4261. Or visit the FTC at www.ftc.gov.

—Phyllis Davis is a Career Development Specialist based in Champaign for the Illinois Employment Training Center. Reach her at 217-278-5700, ext. 237, or padavis_2001@yahoo.com.

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