Q: I’ve lately been getting quite a few e-mails from a collection agency that says it’s working for one of our major parcel carriers. It says we owe thus-and-such, which is usually pretty small — a few hundred dollars at the most — and that if we don’t pay, the carrier is going to cancel our account.
We certainly can’t afford to have that happen; we have some good negotiated rates with the carrier in question. So initially I told our accounts payable people to cut a check immediately, and I figured that was the end of it.
Not so. We keep getting more past-dues from various people, some of them the same collection agency and some of them different. The amounts are always small, but they start to add up.
So I did what I probably should have done in the first place: I contacted the parcel carrier and asked it about this collection stuff. The problem was I couldn’t really get anybody on the phone who was able to tell me definitively. They all said their records showed our account was current, and didn’t seem to know anything about the past-dues the collection agencies were seeking.
At this point, I don’t know what to do. Am I being scammed? Or are we really at risk of losing our contracts with this carrier? Can you help?
A: For almost dead certain you are indeed being scammed, and they’ll keep coming as long as you keep paying.
Tough economic times are hard on everybody, including crooks; the poor babies have to work harder for their ill-gotten gains. So when the economy’s down, as it is now, it’s almost axiomatic that the bad guys are going to step up their efforts to steal your money.
I can’t use spam controls, because they don’t distinguish between genuine Q&A questions and consulting inquiries, on the one hand, and plain trash, on the other. So I expect I get the full range of rip-off spam, which is impressive in its variety.
There are, of course, the folks in obscure African or Asian nations who have large sums they’re dying to bestow on me for sundry reasons, if I but pay a small money transfer fee up front. There are those who offer me great employment opportunities, all of which entail some small investment on my part. There are the educators, who promise me a glowing future if only I take (and pay for) their courses in this, that and whatever.
And then there are the ones who demand that I “re-authenticate” my billing information, usually at institutions or Web sites I don’t patronize. Others offer phenomenal bargains on high-demand goods (iPads and smartphones are especially common) if I’ll just give them my credit card numbers. The further lot insist my credit is compromised, and only they can restore it, provided I give them all my info. Oh, and the IRS also wants my past-due taxes, right now.
At one point recently, in fact, my own e-mail address was briefly hijacked; somebody sent out e-mails in my name referring folks in my address book to various (probably highly compromised) Web sites. As soon as I found out — mostly by a large number of returned “undeliverable” e-mails, and one recipient tipping me off — I quickly put a stop to that.
But my point here is that I, too, have been targeted by e-mailers representing themselves as “collection agencies” for various companies, many of them transportation carriers. As with you, they’ve demanded immediate payment of alleged past-dues or my account would be closed and I’d experience other dire consequences.
All I can tell you is, trust your own records. If you show that you don’t owe the money, you probably don’t. E-mail is free, and your Aunt Hepzibah can write a program to generate quantities of it to random addresses demanding payment of so many bucks right now or else. That same loving auntie also can take note of who ponies up and who doesn’t and keep going back for another bite of the apple until the money stops flowing.
For you, the amount requested is petty cash. That’s what the scammers are counting on; they’ve found from experience that it’s a lot easier to take many folks for a few bucks than a few folks for a bunch. Carriers, parcel or not, don’t just lose track of past-dues; they know if you owe them money. Yours says you don’t, so believe it and not the anonymous e-mails.
Consultant, author and educator Colin Barrett is president of Barrett Transportation Consultants. Send your questions to him at 5201 Whippoorwill Lane, Johns Island, S.C. 29455; phone, 843-559-1277; e-mail, BarrettTrn@aol.com. Contact him to order the most recent 351-page compiled edition of past Q&A columns, published in 2010.