St. Louis, Mo., March 11, 2013 - A California company that has drawn the scrutiny of attorneys general in at least 10 states has been distributing misleading invoices to businesses, schools and nonprofit groups across the St. Louis region, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns.
The BBB urges caution when responding to the mailings from the company, which identifies itself as US-Telecom Inc., US Telecom, UST Development Inc. or UST. The company has used addresses in La Verne and Ontario, Calif.
The mailing appears to be a bill requesting a $425 payment, but actually is an attempt to sell a maintenance agreement for telecommunications systems.
Several businesses and others in Missouri and southern Illinois have reported receiving the notices in recent weeks. Recipients include a St. Louis tire service, a Shiloh, Ill., restaurant and offices of the Catholic Diocese of Belleville.
“I absolutely thought it was an invoice,” said the manager of the Illinois restaurant. The manager said he almost paid it until he became suspicious and contacted the restaurant’s corporate offices.
A representative of the tire service said she, too, believed the mailing was a bill.
BBBs in several states have issued alerts on US-Telecom in recent months. The company has an “F” rating with the BBB, the lowest possible.
Consumers have filed more than 900 complaints against the business with the BBB, including more than 700 in the past 12 months.
Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO, said the mailing is clearly deceptive. “It looks very much like a bill,” Corey said. “People should know that they are under no obligation to pay anything to this company.”
In July, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster sued the company for distributing misleading advertising and for soliciting service contracts without a license.
In August, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan sued the company, alleging it attempted to defraud Illinois businesses, schools and government agencies – including her own office – by sending what appeared to be bills for unauthorized telecommunications maintenance services. “This company made up charges out of thin air,” Madigan said.
In February 2012, North Dakota’s attorney general issued a cease-and-desist order against the company and a company official, David Bell, banning the company from doing business in that state.
Kentucky’s attorney general, who also issued a cease-and-desist order against the company, said the “phony invoice scheme is an old favorite of scam artists preying on unsuspecting consumers and businesses.” He said that the company hopes that a certain percentage of those who receive the mailings will pay the invoices without researching them.
The company has told the BBB that it sends the mailings once a year to all companies in its database. It says that each mailing discloses that it is not a bill.
The mailing to the St. Louis tire service appears to be an invoice for what the company calls a “Telecom Maintenance Agreement.” The mailing asks the recipient to “please remit to the above address” and shows a total of $425.
While the mailing notes that the bill “is not for services rendered,” that information is the final sentence in a block of text and not set off by bold or larger type.
The BBB urges that consumers and businesses be extremely cautious of mailings from unfamiliar companies that appear to be requesting payment. Research the company to make sure that you are being billed for goods or services that you have, in fact, ordered or received.
BBB Business Reviews on more than 4 million companies are available by calling 314-645-3300 or going to www.bbb.org.
Contacts (News Media Only): Michelle Corey, President & CEO, 314-645-0606, email@example.com, or Chris Thetford, Vice President-Communications, 314-584-6743, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Bill Smith, Trade Practice Investigator, 314-584-6727, email@example.com