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 user 2009-12-21 at 10:37:33 am Views: 40
  • #23333

    Complaints continue to mount against SVT.
    In an alleged scam that appears to be picking up steam, Columbia office-supply wholesaler SVT Inc. is piling up complaints from unhappy consumers from coast to coast.
    The large number of complaints last month prompted the Better Business Bureau to issue a rare second warning about the company encouraging office managers to hang up the phone when called by the retailer.The Missouri attorney general’s office also said yesterday that it is “looking into” SVT’s business practices.

    First identified in March as possible scammers, the company that operates from a warehouse off Route E in northwest Columbia does not appear to have deviated from sales tactics the BBB has called “seriously misleading and completely unethical.”

    According to multiple accounts, SVT begins its sales with a “cold call” to a purchasing agent at a business it has previously scouted through online research. In the phone call, the SVT marketer typically acts familiar with the agent, claiming to have spoken to the company’s CFO or even to be a personal friend of the CFO.

    Claiming that the company CFO has green-lighted the sale of supplies and further claiming that SVT is going out of business or moving out of state, the telemarketer quotes bargain-basement prices for items such as pens, notepads or highlighters.Sometimes the purchasing agent agrees to a small purchase, and sometimes he or she refuses. But either way, according to complaints, SVT sends large quantities of supplies at inflated prices. Faced with large boxes of goods and invoices for thousands of dollars, the purchasing agent typically attempts to contact SVT and finds only a voice-mail message.

    Most businesses have refused to pay for the unwanted, overpriced goods, but the BBB fears that SVT cashes in when, at a large business, the office-supply order simply gets lost in the bureaucratic shuffle and is paid for by an unknowing worker in the accounting office.“We don’t know how many people it runs through and they just accept it,” said Bill Smith, a trade practice investigator for the BBB. “Part of the problem is, in these small companies, someone can just walk across the hall and say, ‘I’ve got all this stuff, I understand that you ordered it,’ and someone else can say, ‘Nope.’ For bigger companies, it’s probably people just take their word for it.”

    Smith said the BBB received 17 complaints from businesses last month about SVT — the highest number to date — and has received a total of 99 complaints about the company this year. The attorney general’s office has recorded 19 complaints about SVT.“It almost seems like it’s becoming more and more blatant,” Smith said.

    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 of Jefferson City received a Columbia business license in August 2008.

    Hannah Costello, a human resources administrator for Michigan-based Plast-O-Foam LLC, received a call from an SVT representative in November claiming to have already spoken with one of her co-workers. Costello purchased small amounts of goods such as pens from SVT after hearing it was closing its offices in Michigan and moving to Missouri. She was quoted attractive prices, including 39 cents for a dozen pens.The order, which came in three boxes weighing about 50 pounds each, ended up being 39 cents per pen, and the total invoice was a whopping $1,509.

    Costello is seeking to return the unwanted items.
    “The most I’ve ever spent on office supplies was $600, and that was when I ordered a whole bunch of ink cartridges,” said Costello, who estimated the price of the supplies from SVT was roughly four times what she pays elsewhere. “This is way, way out of line.”