St. Louis, Mo., May 28, 2013 – A parts supply business in Fenton, Mo., is among the most recent victims of what appears to be a nationwide scheme to bill potential customers for light bulbs and cleaning supplies that were never ordered, the Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Missouri and Southern Illinois warns.
The BBB suggests extreme caution for anyone contacted by sales representatives of Commercial Industries of Butler, Md. Commercial Industries is one of at least eight related companies that have drawn more than 300 complaints with the Greater Maryland BBB in the past 36 months. Most complaints involve charges for unordered and unwanted items.
The other companies, all with addresses in Maryland, are Standard Industries of Butler; Hansen Supply, Essex Industries and Johnson Distributors, all of Owings Mill; Midway Industries and State Power & Lighting, both of Cockeysville, and National LLC of Glyndon. Brian Wallen is president of the businesses. Brandon Riggs is listed as customer service manager or vice president. All of the companies have “F” ratings with the BBB, the lowest possible.
Several complainants told the BBB that a telemarketer representing one of the eight Maryland companies used misleading sales tactics to try to convince businesses to order products. Even when the solicited businesses refused to place orders, the Maryland companies often shipped the items and demanded payment.
Some complainants said the salespeople were able to obtain addresses and other billing information by promising to send free catalogs, sample products or pocketknives.
In the Fenton case, Commercial Industries shipped a package of 25 fluorescent light bulbs to the business last month even though two company representatives told the salesperson repeatedly that they were not interested. Commercial billed the Fenton firm $600.
A customer service representative with the Fenton company said the telemarketer initially spoke with the company’s warehouse manager, acting as if he knew him personally, even though they previously had never talked. After the warehouse manager disconnected the call, the salesman called the firm’s customer service department. That employee also refused to confirm an order or give the caller any information.
Several days after the calls, the shipment of lights and a bill arrived from Commercial Industries.
The customer service representative said he believes his company was scammed.
Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO, said business-to-business schemes usually depend on companies paying bills without fully researching them.
“Businesses need to be very careful whenever they receive a cold call from a salesperson,” Corey said. “If you don’t know who you are dealing with, hang up and do your homework. An informed consumer is the best defense against becoming a victim.”
In another case, a salesperson from Commercial Industries called a nursing home in southern Missouri earlier this year and spoke to the maintenance manager. Even though the maintenance manager refused to order anything, Commercial Industries sent a package of 25 three-foot-long light bulbs and billed the nursing home $600. The home’s administrator said the facility uses only four-foot bulbs. “These guys are relentless,” he said. After the home filed a complaint with the BBB, Commercial Industries agreed to have the lights shipped back without charge.
Other complainants told the BBB that they repeatedly tried to reach the company after receiving the products, with little or no success. Several said the prices of the items were several times what they usually paid for the same products.
The BBB sent letters to the companies in February, pointing to a pattern of complaints.
Wallen, the company president, responded to the Greater Maryland BBB that his businesses are committed to customer satisfaction. He said several changes had been made to address BBB and consumer concerns. He said the changes include increased training for customer service representatives and making the company’s contact information easier to find on invoices and packing slips. He also said that the company’s return policy had been relaxed to allow for easier returns of unwanted merchandise.
Wallen denied that products are mailed without proper authorization. “Every sale is confirmed through a strict verification process,” he said.
The websites for the eight Maryland companies are similar and include customer testimonials. The Commercial Industries site says that, “Our success can be directly attributed to the way we conduct ourselves professionally.” The site says the company encourages its representatives “to treat each customer as their neighbor.”
Businesses with complaints about these companies should contact the BBB, the attorney general’s office in their state and the Federal Trade Commission.
The BBB offers the following tips for avoiding problems when dealing with telemarketing calls from business supply companies:
- Deal only with known and reputable companies.
- Make sure you get in writing exactly what you are ordering and what it will cost. Insist on the ability to sign off on any agreement before items are shipped.
- Do not take a salesperson’s word that a company official has authorized you to do business with the company. Check with the official before finalizing an order.
- Be cautious about a salesperson’s promise of free samples or gifts.
- Once the supplies are received, check them carefully to make sure you have received exactly what you have ordered. Make sure the invoice total is correct.
- If you receive items you have not ordered, contact the supplier immediately and ask them to pay for return shipping.
- Contact the BBB for a BBB Business Review by calling 314-645-3300, or by checking our website at 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