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 user 2009-06-09 at 10:21:41 am Views: 44
  • #22147
    Office supply scam complaints continue to mount
    A Columbia office supply business accused of scamming or misleading customers from coast to coast appears to be operating with impunity, according to the Better Business Bureau.
    In fact, according to complaint reports, SVT Inc. has actually accelerated its activity.“They’re just thumbing their nose at authorities, consumer groups and, most of all, consumers,” said Bill Smith, an investigator with the St. Louis-based BBB. “They’re basically saying, ‘We’re going to do whatever we want, and it doesn’t matter what you think.’… It’s a crying shame.”The BBB first issued a warning March 26 about the company, which operates out of a warehouse off of Route E in northwest Columbia. Customers had complained that SVT telemarketers were calling with pitches that included deception. Typically, the complaints said, an SVT telemarketer would call a company purchasing agent, claiming to have already spoken to the company’s chief financial officer who, the caller claimed, green-lighted the purchase of office supplies at a discount. “We’re moving our business and need to unload inventory,” was the typical sales claim.

    The purchasing agent would agree to buy a small quantity of office supplies at half off or more. But the buyer was typically surprised later when large quantities of supplies were delivered, with an invoice in the thousands of dollars.Since reports from the BBB and the Tribune were published in March, SVT does not appear to have changed its tactics. The BBB has received 17 complaints from customers since March 28, including seven in May, bringing the total to 31.“They just seem to be flaunting what they’re doing — their bad business practices,” Smith said. “And they don’t seem to care. This is what’s making them money, and they’re going to keep on doing it.”SVT is linked to other mail-order office supply companies that previously operated in Dardanelle, Ark., and Fort Mohave, Ariz. Both have generated similar consumer complaints, according to the BBB. SVT owner Michael O’Keefe, 34, of Jefferson City received a Columbia business license in August.

    At the SVT warehouse this morning, men were taping up boxes of supplies including pens and paper clips. They claimed to know nothing about the controversy and deferred questions to O’Keefe. Attempts to reach O’Keefe on office, home and cell phones were unsuccessful.All but three of the complaints against SVT have been resolved, according to BBB records. Often this occurs by allowing the unsatisfied customer to return supplies free of charge. Investigators believe that SVT hopes invoices for the unwanted supplies will simply be overlooked and paid by the accounting division of a company.Brenda Hirsch, a buyer for an air-monitoring corporation in Santa Rosa, Calif., is one of the latest to file a complaint. This month, Hirsch said, an SVT representative called and mentioned her CFO’s name.

    She said she agreed to buy nine boxes of Sharpies and highlighters at $1.49 per box, plus Post-It notes and other supplies. Hirsch expected the total to be less than $200 and was astounded when four huge boxes arrived with an invoice of $3,280. She had been charged $1.49 per pen.“I was shocked and pissed, to say the least,” she said. Hirsch refused to pay and is awaiting a label to ship the goods back. “It makes me not trust anybody,” she said.

    Others complainants have reported badgering sales tactics and promises of deal-sweeteners such as free cameras.“It was just kind of shady,” said Stefanie Romagni, a contract administrator with a landscaping company in Ohio. Romagni said she was pressured into buying supplies by an SVT representative she thought was a relative of her CFO. She canceled after reading about SVT and confirming that the salesperson didn’t know her CFO.The Missouri attorney general’s office has reported five complaints about SVT.