ATHENS — An office worker at Athens Community School knew something wasn’t right Friday when she received an invoice for 50 English workbooks she knew she hadn’t ordered.

A phone call to what turned out to be a discontinued number and a quick Internet search confirmed her suspicions — it was a scam, one already rampant in other parts of the country.

“I’m going through the mail, and I noticed what looked like a bill from a company that I recognize,” said administrative assistant Nancy Martin. “I thought it may have been from Scholastic Inc., so I opened it up and I looked at the date. It was back in August, and I’m the one that handles the purchasing for the school, and I don’t remember ever putting in a request for that amount of books.”

The bill also listed Athens as being a member of School Administrative District 59, which it no longer is. That got Martin’s attention, too.

The invoice from what claimed to be a company called Scholastic School Supply was $647.50 for English language arts practice books, Common Core standards aligned. The return address was in Las Vegas. Checks were to be payable by Sept. 25.

The logo on the invoice also resembled the logo for Scholastic Inc., the global children’s education company that publishes classroom magazines and popular children’s books, but Scholastic Inc. has no affiliation with what turned out to be a fictitious entity.

“I decided to go online, and I typed in the name of the company, and one of the first things that popped up was an article from the Better Business Bureau that said there was a scam going around schools out in the Midwest,” Martin said.

She called school principal Cynthia Streznewski, who also is principal at Harmony Elementary School, and found that school had received a similar invoice for $647.50 for books.

Martin reported the scam to Kevin Jordan, superintendent of Dexter-based AOS 94, which includes Athens and Harmony.

Then she called Maine State Police.

In alerts published in early September, the Better Business Bureau warned school districts across the country to be on the lookout for fake invoices for educational supplies. In the first few weeks of the new school year, the bureau had received more than 3,300 inquiries and nearly 100 complaints from schools in 26 states, according to the bureau’s website.

The fake invoices sent by Scholastic School Supply all show the same amount due — $647.50 — for a bulk purchase of books that were not ordered and never received.

Scholastic Inc. — the real company which distributes children’s books — sent out an email notice last week, alerting customers and consumers of the scam.

“Scholastic School Supply is not affiliated with Scholastic Inc., but rather is a company that is using Scholastic’s name and trademark without authorization,” the company said in an email dated Sept. 10. “Scholastic recently became aware of this company and its actions and has demanded that they cease and desist using Scholastic’s name and trademark, which they have agreed to do, but they seemingly have not done so as of the date of this communication.”

Kyle Good, senior vice president for corporate communications at Scholastic Inc., said in an email to the Morning Sentinel Monday that nothing had changed since last week.

“We have no update since the statement,” Good said. “Better Business Bureaus throughout the country are working on and communicating about this.”

Although Scholastic School Supply lists addresses in New Jersey and Nevada on its invoices, the Better Business Bureau has been unable to locate any corporation filings, business licensing, or otherwise required business entity documentation for it in either state to substantiate a physical location, according to the bureau’s web site.

With numbers continuing to rise in increments of as many as 15 complaints a day, schools are urged not to pay the invoice, but instead to contact the Federal Trade Commission, local postal inspectors or state authorities.

Scholastic Inc. has been investigating the company and will continue to do so. If it determines that Scholastic School Supply is violating any other laws or regulations, it will take prompt, appropriate action. Scholastic School Supply has been reported to various state attorneys general and the U.S. postal inspector in Nevada and New Jersey for further investigation, according to the company notice.

In Maine, Martha Currier, complaint examiner in the consumer complaint division of the attorney general’s office, said so far only one other school district has reported the scam.

Currier said Maine School Administrative District 20 in Fort Fairfield last week reported the scam to her.

“My advice to a school department or an individual would be the same that I give to consumers that call the consumer line on a daily basis,” Currier said. “When you get an invoice of any kind, make sure it’s something that you’ve actually ordered from the company you’ve actually ordered it from.”

Samantha Warren, communications director at the Maine Department of Education, said she has not been notified of the scam, but added that if other schools in the state are getting the invoices, the department would issue an alert.

Scholastic School Supply did not respond to email messages Monday. The phone number on the invoice is no longer in service.

The Better Business Bureau in southern Nevada received its first complaint against Scholastic School Supply Aug. 20. The tactics employed by the company are similar to the “Yellow Pages Scam,” a business to business operation that surfaced in 2013 and bilked more than $14 million from small businesses and churches before being halted at the request of the Federal Trade Commission.

As for her role in preventing the Athens school from falling victim to the scam, Martin said it was all in a day’s work.

“It was just something that I’m trained to do,” she said Monday. “I look over the invoices. I’m glad that I was able to catch it. That was good.”

Jordan, the school superintendent, said Martin had not seen the email warning sent last week by Scholastic Inc. and acted on her own instincts.

“It appears on the invoice that someone’s trying to imitate them in sending out a ‘Scholastic’ bill,” Jordan said. “I assume it’s something nationwide, but thankfully, Nancy Martin recognized it right off quick as something that just didn’t look right and found out very quickly that it was a scam.

“It’s amazing what lengths some groups will go to to try to steal from people. It’s unbelievable.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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