Consumers affected by a Mesa man’s toner cartridge scam are receiving the first installment of restitution benefits for over $200,000.
The Arizona Attorney General’s Office is distributing monetary awards to businesses that paid James Deremiah and his companies, INT Sourcing LLC and Premiere Office Supplies, for fake invoices for the ink, used in printers and copy machines.
“If someone takes your money under false pretenses, consumers are entitled to restitution,” said Attorney General Mark Brnovich in a release, adding:
“Whether you’re an individual consumer or a business that’s been ripped off, the Arizona Attorney General’s office is a leading voice in fighting for restitution for victims of consumer fraud.”
Brnovich sued Deremiah and his businesses last year, alleging that they sent fake toner cartridge invoices to churches, schools and businesses to trick victims into paying the bogus bills as a routine business matter.
The settlement includes full restitution for every business that sent money in response to the invoices.
Half of the restitution will be sent this month, while the other half will be distributed next year, when Deremiah makes his court-ordered payments.
The Mesa resident must also pay at least $140,000 in civil penalties.
From at least Dec. 30, 2015 to Feb. 16, 2018, Deremiah sent thousands of toner cartridge invoices from INT Sourcing LLC and Premiere Office Supplies – both with Mesa addresses – to consumer businesses across the country.
Deremiah and his companies would contact consumers via phone, according to court documents, and introduce themselves as either their copier or printer service.
They would then gather personal information about the “clients,” such as equipment serial numbers, and use it to procure a false invoice.
After receiving payment, Deremiah would send the toner cartridges – which were available through other companies, often at one-tenth of the price – followed by a second invoice for $1,500.
“The invoices violated the CFA [Arizona Consumer Fraud Act] because they had the tendency and capacity to deceive consumer businesses into believing that the consumer businesses owed money to the Acting Defendants for the prior purchase of toner cartridges,” Brnovich said.
The fake invoices featured the word “Invoice” printed in the upper-right corner in large, bold font; a five-digit number under “Invoice#”; the words “PLEASE REMIT PAYMENT” at the bottom-left corner; the words “Net 15” under “Terms”; and private information about the consumer business.
Consumer businesses, court documents show, made approximately 386 payments and Deremiah and his businesses received approximately $419,640 in gross revenue.
Foster, Hanks & Ballard, a law firm based in Monroe, Georgia, said they were snubbed $2,000 as a result of the scam.
A firm manager who handles the firm’s accounts payable first noticed two “odd-looking” invoices back in April 2017.
“I’m certainly angry – choose a victim, choose a crime, the initial response is you’re angry,” said partner Robbie Ballard. “The second feeling is one of disappointment in that the system processes you have in place are fallible.”
On Jan. 4, 2018, Brnovich filed a formal complaint in Superior Court, claiming Deremiah and his businesses violated the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act on multiple counts.
“Defendants misrepresented their identity to consumers over the telephone to elicit information that Defendants would then include in the invoices sent to consumers,” he wrote, noting:
“Defendants’ invoices deceived consumers to believe they owed money to defendants for toner cartridges already ordered or received.”
The court issued a consent judgment in March of this year requiring Deremiah to cease all business activity and pay the Attorney General’s Office around $830,000 in restitution, civil penalties and attorney’s fees.
The document stated, “This consent judgment resolves all outstanding claims in this action.”
Toner pirate scams, which involve telemarketing scam artists like Deremiah who run printer ink scams, are more common than one might think.
In 2016 alone, 21 people were arrested in a $126 million telemarketing scam for selling overpriced toner for printers and photocopiers to small businesses and charities, according to tonernews.com.
EO Johnson, a business that offers copier, printer and document management, says “toner pirates” generally pressure consumers to act immediately over the phone, are vague about details and may call repeatedly to try to get information from fake clients.
The company suggests that businesses train all staff about risks of toner pirates, don’t rush into an order, avoid answering questions about an order or office equipment via phone, and ask callers for their account numbers.
Brnovich said that anyone who believes they’re a victim of consumer fraud can file a complaint with the Attorney General’s office at azag.gov/complaints/consumer.