CompuStar Systems, Inc.--Inept company or brilliant scam?

Just wanted to put this out there for anyone who has had dealings with this company. This company sells toners for printers. They do not have a website. (There are other CompuStar companies with websites, but they are not this company.) I wanted to share my recent experience with this company.

What they did with my company was to call at least three random people (and I have reason to believe they called more) with the following pitch: "We were supposed to deliver some toner cartridges to another company in your area, but they ended up not needing them. So we were calling to see if you wanted them at a discounted rate." They called each of the three people and told them that they talked to someone else in the company who ordered the cartridges, but they needed an approval. They gave the name of someone else in the company and said that person gave them the new name as the approver.

I know that sounds confusing (which believe me, it was), so here is an example with names (keep in mind that in all cases, the CompuStar rep is very confident and makes it sounds as if the order is a done deal and all they need is approval):

STEEV: Customer Service, this is Steev.
COMPUSTAR: Hi Steev, this is Jim from Compustar. We have some toner cartridges that were originally to be delivered to another company in your area. However, they are not going to be needing them. It will cost too much to ship them back, so we wanted to see if you would like them at a discounted price. We spoke to someone in your Accounts Receivable department, and they recommended I call you.
STEEV: I'm sorry, I don't think we need any toner. I am not the person who orders toner anyway.
COMPUSTAR: You do have an HP Laser Jet 4050N in your department, correct?
STEEV: No, I don't think so.
COMPUSTAR: Well, could you check?

STEEV: No, we don't have that printer. You must have been misinformed.

VANESSA: Customer Service Operations, this is Vanessa.
COMPUSTAR: Hi Vanessa, this is Jim from CompuStar. We have some toner cartridges that were originally to be delivered to another company in your area. However, they are not going to be needing them. It will cost too much to ship them back, so we wanted to see if you would like them at a discounted price. We spoke to Steev in your Customer Service department, and he recommended I call you because he was not the final approver for the department.
VANESSA: I am not the person who approves the orders for Customer Service either.

ME: [Company name], this is Megan.
COMPUSTAR: Hi, Megan, this is Jim from Compustar. We got your name from Vanessa in Customer Service Operations. We have some toner cartridges that were originally to be delivered to another company in your area. However, they are not going to be needing them. It will cost too much to ship them back, so we are selling them to Vanessa at a discounted price. However, she said that you were the approver for all orders in her department, so we just wanted to get your approval.

The Compustar rep then starts reading off our street address to verify for delivery, making it sound as if the order was a done deal and they just needed my approval. Although a bit sketchy, it sounded legitimate and not outside the realm of probability (plus I was a bit distracted because I was doing about five other things at the time), so I said okay, figuring I'd call Vanessa later to see what the deal was.

Later that day (or maybe it was the next day), another person from Compustar (I think she said her name was Elizabeth) called to verify my order. She basically just read off the same stuff that the man had confirmed, and I had not yet gotten to talk to Vanessa (and was again really busy at the time), so I said okay.

Neither of these times did the CompuStar reps try to obtain payment information. Elizabeth said we would get an invoice mailed separately from the package, and we could just pay that through the normal company channels. She said she would address it to me and asked me to verify the spelling of my name and my mailstop.


About a week or so later, the package arrives and the suspicions start kicking in full swing.

SUSPICIOUS ITEM #1: The package took a while to arrive and had a return mailing address of Nixa, MO, on it. I thought the package was already in our city and they were just looking for someone to pick it up so they wouldn't have to ship it back.
SUSPICIOUS ITEM #2: I called Vanessa (who I had forgotten to check with earlier) to let her know her toner has arrived. Vanessa said she didn't order any toner. She told me she got a suspicious call from CompuStar a while ago asking her to order toner and telling her they had talked to Steev. Vanessa thought it was suspicious because she was not in the same department as Steev. She had asked Steev about it and he thought it was suspicious too. Steev said he had NOT given them Vanessa's name. Vanessa told me she just got tired of dealing with the CompuStar rep and told him he would have to call me because I was their department's administrator.
(SEMI-)SUSPICIOUS ITEM #3: The packing slip contains no dollar amounts, and the only address is a P.O. Box in Nixa. There is an 800 number on the slip.
SUSPICIOUS ITEM #4: The toner cartridges have no manufacturer name on them. They are generic, and a CompuStar label was placed on them. The CompuStar label contains no further information than the P.O. Box and 800 number. The only thing on the toner cartridge box that could be considered a manufacturer name is "@cartridge." It's convenient that you can't look that up on the internet due to the @ sign.

I went to the Better Business Bureau website and looked up CompuStar. This is what I found: "Based on BBB files, the company has responded to complaints concerning selling practices and credit/billing disputes and a complaint concerning refund practices processed by the Bureau and has either addressed the disputed issues or made a good faith effort to resolve the complaints satisfactorily."

I thought of just returning the stuff without calling CompuStar, but they had a nice little clause on their invoice stating that all returns must be processed through their Customer Service dept. and would be charged a 20% "re-stocking fee." So I called CompuStar to get a return authorization. The girl who answered the phone said she could take my information and someone from the Customer Service dept. would call me back. Okay, cool.

So while I waited for my call, I did some more digging on the internet, and came up with this...
SUSPICIOUS ITEM #5: This company is nowhere to be found on the internet. The only related results that came up were complaint letters from library message boards (and I had to type "compustar toner" or "compustar scam" to even get those to come up). Those letters seemed to indicate the same kinds of practices--calling people asking what kind of printer they have, getting the approval under questionable circumstances, etc. (There was one CompuStar Systems, Inc. in New York, but that was not the same company and is now out of business anyway. Unless that was a former address.....hmmmmm.) So I called the Nixa, MO, Chamber of Commerce. They had never heard of CompuStar and had no record of them in their business license division. So I figured that CompuStar does not actually operate out of Nixa, but just has a P.O. Box there. The Nixa website said it was about 10 minutes from Springfield, MO, so I suspected that maybe they operated out of there.

Before I could do any more digging, I got a call from Brad Baker. I recognized the name as the Director of Customer Relations who had responded to the complaints on the library message board. I explained to Brad that although I did approve the order, it was because I had been led to believe that someone in a department for which I was responsible had placed the order. I explained that when I called her, she told me she had not placed the order. I gave him a brief recap of how the CompuStar rep had called all over this company trying to get an approval and how they seemed to be preying on confusion.

Let me tell you...Brad Baker is the smoothest guy I've ever dealt with. He had an answer for everything. He never seemed caught off guard, and was very accommodating about processing my return and waiving the "re-stocking fee." He was kind and understanding and apologetic. But then, I guess he could afford to be. CompuStar probably does pretty well with the money they make off those whose corporate structure is so labrynthine that something like this would never be caught, and thus, never contested. It would simply be paid, written off to confusion, and filed in the "now we know better for next time" category.

All of this (the package arriving, the phone calls, the research) took place on August 27, 2004. This is also the date I shipped the toner back to them. (Brad had given me the street address.)

On September 7, our Accounts Payable department received an invoice for these toners just like the one I had received with my shipment. This one, however, had totals on it. CompuStar was charging $1788 for six Hewlett Packard Laser Jet 4050N cartridges, plus $70 "processing," for a total of $1858.00! Dividing $1788 by 6 gives us a total of $298 for each cartridge! On the internet, just doing a very brief search, the prices were in the $40 range for generic brands, and the highest HP brand price I saw was $122.99. So trying to pass off $298 per cartridge as a special "discounted" rate is a complete farce.

Now, I cannot PROVE whether the invoice was sent out before or after my conversation with Brad Baker, but I know that a simple letter-sized piece of mail would only take two or three days to travel from Missouri to Georgia (where my company is located). There were eight business days between my conversation with CompuStar in which I told them I would be returning the toner, and the stamp on the invoice marking the day that AP received it here. And it is also questionable because Elizabeth was so careful to get my specific information because she wanted to send the invoice directly to me. I suspect (but again, cannot PROVE) that CompuStar sent it directly to our AP dept on purpose, hoping they would just pay it. Fortunately, at my company, the AP dept will not pay an invoice unless they have received the proper paperwork and approval, so they bounced it back to me with a note that it had not been paid. (My name was printed on the invoice as the person who placed the order, which is how AP knew to send it to me.)

Anyway, back to the end of August when I received the package. I called the Chambers of Commerce and Business Licensing Offices for both Nixa and Springfield. Neither of them had any registration for CompuStar. I gave the street address to the Business Licensing Office in Springfield, and they did show one business registered at that address. It was registered as MTech (or MTek) and had been registered since 2/1/99. The lady I spoke with said that even though they shared the same address, if a company was doing business under a separate name, it would need a license. She said she would send the case to a licensing inspector for the area.

I called the number that they gave me for MTech, and a woman answered, "Microtech." I told her I was trying to reach CompuStar and this was the only number I was able to find. She seemed kind of put-off, but simply said that CompuStar was their sister company. The only number she would give me was the 800 number I already had.

I called the number a second time (on another day), and this time she answered, "MTech." I again said I was looking for CompuStar. She gave the same line about them being a sister company. I asked if she had a local number for CompuStar and she said they would receive all calls placed to the toll free number. So I went back to the "sister company" subject and asked if they worked out of the same office. She said, "Not's kind of complicated. We take some of their incoming calls and handle customer service for them--you know, shipping and stuff." I asked her what MTech did and she said, "We're a printer supply company." I also learned that Brad Baker operates out of that office.

I called the Springfield Business Licensing Office to ask what the update was on CompuStar. I spoke to the licensing inspector and she informed me that she had called the number and spoken to the MTech receptionist and was awaiting a call back from the owner of CompuStar (who is also the owner of MTech). She said she had not been able to make it out to the address yet though. I told her the whole story and faxed her a copy of the invoice CompuStar had sent to my AP dept.

Anyway, I leave it to you, the reader, to come up with your own conclusion. I will not formally allege anything against CompuStar except to say that they did not have a business license in Springfield, MO, as of September 2004 (and as you saw above, I have already reported this). I will however, speculate. It is my opinion that they simply create and then prey on confusion and make their money unethically, though not illegally. I am guessing that they pick businesses out of the yellow pages--targeting businesses large enough to afford one "oversight." Also, in my company's case, we had a dial-by-name phone directory, so you could probably gather information of other names and departments by calling late at night and listening to some employee voicemail greetings. There is probably info on certain deptartments on our website, and I know many other companies have a "Contact Us" or "Who we are" section on the web (and some even have company directories on the web too).

The first call might be a "telemarketing"-type call in which they ask the person who answers what kind of printer they have, and then ask if they want to buy some toner. If the person says no, it doesn't matter, because CompuStar now has a name, a department, and a printer brand. They then use that info in their subsequent calls, building their arsenal of names with each call. They sound so confident and professional, like they're reading off an order that has already been placed and just need your verification and approval.

Then when the stuff comes, there is no pricing information listed on the invoice. That comes later. They hope that at least one of two things is true: 1) you won't think there's a problem and will just take the toner that you ordered and pay for it, 2) you might think there's a problem, but can't quite pin it down on anything, so you will just pay the invoice. I think the latter would especially work well in large companies where an item is paid for by someone other than the person who ordered it.

So anyway, here's my advice if any of you get caught approving and receiving an order from CompuStar:

If you try to return it without calling them first, they will take their 20% fee. If you call them, they are nice enough and process the return with no problem. So call them. Just say that although you DID approve the order, there was a mix-up in the way it was ordered (or whatever the explanation is in your case).

And here's the info that I dug up:

Mailing address listed on invoice: P.O. Box 1155, Nixa, MO, 65714
Street address: 1335 E. Bradford Pkwy, Springfield, MO, 65804
Phone number: 1-800-451-6718
Local number (MTech): 417-886-1689
Springfield Business Licensing Office: 417-864-1617

The thing to remember in all of this is that they aren't REALLY doing anything illegal. It's just shady is all. You would not win a court case against them. And as long as they continue to process returns with no problem, there's really no complaint that can be filed with the BBB. This is why I say it is brilliant on their part.

I only hope that this website can play some small part in defeating them the old-fashioned way--by simply causing them to lose money.