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Bogus Bills: Shady Company Scams Schools in 26 States

Image: A globe sits on a desk in a classroom.

A globe sits on a desk in a classroom. Charles Rex Arbogast / AP file

The Better Business Bureau is warning school districts across the country to be on the lookout for fake invoices for educational supplies. In just the last few weeks, the BBB has received more than 3,300 inquiries and nearly 100 complaints from schools in 26 states.

The bogus invoices, from a company called Scholastic School Supply, show an amount due of $647.50 for a bulk purchase of math or art books that were not ordered and never received.

The invoices list an address in either Las Vegas or Sewell, N.J. Both are mail drops.

Scholastic School Supply is not affiliated with Scholastic Inc., the global children’s education company that publishes those well-known classroom magazines and popular children’s books.

Crowdfunding in the classroom 2:28

The BBB’s scam alert says the company does not respond to email messages. The phone number on the invoice is no longer in service. NBC emailed the company for a comment and it bounced back.

“We are trying to find out where they are, but so far have not been able to locate them,” said Rhonda Mettler, operations director of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Nevada, which has received the bulk of the inquiries and complaints.

The Better Business Bureau is warning school districts to be on the lookout for fake invoices for educational supplies, like this one.
The Better Business Bureau is warning school districts to be on the lookout for fake invoices for educational supplies, like this one. Schools in at least 26 states have received them. Better Business Bureau

Jamie Zeigler is treasurer and chief financial officer in the West Holmes Local School District in Millersburg, Ohio. Several schools in the district got the phony bill from Scholastic School Supply. Luckily, she questioned it and didn’t pay.

“If a school does not have very good purchasing controls, this invoice could very well end up getting paid, so I would be surprised if they didn’t receive some money as a result,” Zeigler said.

Mandy Jessee, a school principal in the Pioneer School District in Shelton, Washington, also received the phony invoice – and spotted it before paying. She told NBC News that with public school budgets already stretched thin, no district can afford to waste hundreds of dollars this way.

“This is a real distraction,” Jessee said. “We should be focused on educating our kids, not worry about someone trying to take advantage of us and taxpayers.”

In a news release issued on Wednesday, Scholastic Inc. said Scholastic School Supply is using its name and trademark “without authorization” and it has demanded that it cease and desist.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service tells NBC News it is investigating. Any school district that fell for the scam and paid the invoice should file a complaint.

The Better Business Bureau warns businesses that scammers often target them with fake invoices.

“This is similar to scams that we’ve seen in the past that send businesses fake invoices for products or services the company never ordered, such as yellow pages ads or office supplies,” said Katherine Hutt, director of communications at the Council of Better Business Bureaus. “That’s why it’s so important to have procedures in place to verify all bills before you pay them.”