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Print Shops Warn of Possible Scammer Posing as a Salesman

How multiple PSPs invested time and money in someone with no return, and how you can avoid doing the same.

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Editor’s note: To conceal their identity and avoid potential legal issues, the names of those involved have been changed.

“THE BEST-CASE SCENARIO is they’re poor at their job. The worst case is, they’re a scammer.” This is how Pat, a US print service provider, ended our call. We were both perplexed as to how someone could either fail so miserably at what they had promised to deliver or succeed so amazingly at swindling multiple print shops, with no in-between.

When Taylor (the poor salesperson vs. perfect scammer) applied to Pat’s company for a sales position, they told a really great story, provided what seemed to be legitimate references, showed experience in the industry, and knew a lot about prospective clients. “They showcased everything that would get a company like ours excited,” says Pat. “When hiring this person, I was so enamored by the business they could bring, and they seemed so nice and personable there was nothing that made me question their intentions.”

But after a few months, the promises fell flat. No sales were being made and the clients Taylor said they were working with had never heard of them. Pat soon began getting calls from other print shops. They were not alone.

A couple of months before I spoke with Pat, I received a message from Morgan. The subject line read “Scammers.”

In 2020, Morgan’s shop interviewed Taylor for a sales position. “They did extensive research. They knew the terminology, our clients, our story,” says Morgan, “but I immediately had bad feelings. I just couldn’t pinpoint why.” They shared with their business partner that it was hard to explain but didn’t feel right. A big reason was Taylor didn’t have any social media. “How is a salesperson who is supposed to be marketing themselves not visible?” Taylor’s experience and charm ended up winning over Morgan’s gut feeling.

Taylor worked for Morgan’s shop for a few weeks until Morgan started to do some research. Taylor was talking a big game, supposedly meeting with major clients for giant projects, but had no evidence to back it up. At one point Taylor asked for reimbursement but had no proof of the appointment. Morgan decided to search Taylor’s name. One after another, print shops started to surface. When Morgan called the first shop on the list, the owner had to pull their car over. They had been potentially conned for a year. The next person, seven months. The next found out Taylor had been working for two shops simultaneously. Morgan says unfortunately it’s a bad practice in the wide-format industry to work at multiple businesses. “People double dip. They work for you, they work for them, they’re not independent.” But in those situations, the companies they work for are typically seeing some sort of return.

Taylor was fired from both Pat and Morgan’s companies. Pat calls this experience an expensive lesson to be learned, but one that will serve them and their business well in the future. Regardless of whether Taylor is simply bad at their job or an impressive con artist, there are ways to avoid both when hiring. Here’s what Pat and Morgan learned:

Communicate with Your Print Peers

1 “We need to have more honest conversations with other printers. That’s where we fail as a community,” says Morgan. “At least make the phone call.” If your new hire comes from the industry, ask their former employer (your print peers) if they would rehire this person. Did they leave on good terms? Do you recommend them? “If I had called someone like Morgan before hiring, I may have been spared this experience,” shares Pat, who says meeting Morgan is the only positive that’s come from the situation.

Check Their Social Media

2 Your potential salesperson should at least be on LinkedIn so they can connect with clients. The first sign Morgan and their business partner ignored was Taylor’s lack of social media presence. “They weren’t even on LinkedIn,” says Morgan. “That’s where we failed. If they don’t have social media, that’s an alert. Either they’re hiding from someone, or they don’t know how to market themselves.”

If the person you’re interviewing does have social media, reconsider doing a deep dive. JDP, which offers screening services for employers, shares three reasons why you should leave social media screening to a third-party:

  • When employers conduct their own social media background checks, they put themselves at risk for lawsuits.
  • When employers conduct their own social media background checks, they may not use a consistent process.
  • A third-party will allow an employer to free up time to work on other projects.

Do Your Research

3 It can be as easy as a Google search. When Pat started to question Taylor’s work ethic, they plugged their name into the search engine with wide-format keywords. “That’s when we started to see their name connected with other printing company names,” says Pat. Which would have been fine if Taylor hadn’t already told them they didn’t have any experience with those print shops.

“You’d be surprised with what else you can find online that goes beyond someone being a convicted criminal,” they say. You may see things like prior history and civil court appearances, but this can also put you and your company at risk for lawsuits, so be careful going down that path. Pat recommends doing an extensive background check. “They’re totally worth the extra $100 – especially for someone working out of the office, remotely.” Components of an extensive background check include SSN locator, national criminal database search, sex offenders record search, and motor vehicle records search.

Have Metrics in Place

4 A common Human Resources phrase is, “Hire slow, fire fast.” While it’s hard to find good hires, sometimes letting people go is best for them and your business. “If after a couple months, even if there’s an economic downturn, if they can’t even sell business cards, it’s time to cut your losses,” says Pat, who now establishes solid performance metrics within the first couple of months to track how well employees are carrying out their jobs. For example, in the first month the new sales hire needs to have 10 solid leads with the value of $100,000. In the second month, they must have 10 percent sold. Once these metrics are in place, expectations are set for all parties and it’s not a surprise to anyone if they’re fired after not completing what was asked of them. “If you do your best in the hiring process, but then fail fast, that’s better than never trusting someone or letting it go for too long.” Pat also says they could have done a better job as Taylor’s manager. “I should have gone on account visits with them and made calls to the clients ahead of time. I needed to be coaching more.”

Learn Your Lesson

5 Hindsight is 20/20. These negative experiences can be used as lessons to grow. “Some hires are good, some hires are bad, and that’s the nature of the game. I’m going to hire bad again,” says Pat, who wants to think that people generally do the right thing. “I made those mistakes along the way and wasted a lot of money with Taylor not selling anything, but I don’t want to live my life 100-percent suspicious of everyone.” Pat jokes that if Taylor had put half the effort into selling than they did on scamming, they’d be a great salesperson. “Unfortunately, this is what they chose to be good at and it sucks.”

I thank Pat and Morgan for sharing their stories of such a dumbfounding scenario where shortcomings in the hiring and selection processes were exploited. They hope their warning can enable PSPs to be more cautious, and that Taylor stops hindering the industry.

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Adrienne Palmer joined Big Picture magazine in 2012 after graduating from Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism with a BA in magazine journalism. During her time with Big Picture, she has held the roles of assistant editor, associate editor, and managing editor, and is now serving as editor-in-chief. If she isn’t traveling, she’s planning her next trip.

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