U.S. POSTAL SERVICE authorities have issued a cease and desist order against a California company whose bogus classified ad invoices hurt newspapers all around the country.
The order, issued this summer, forbids Erica Lynn Kortje and her Employment Classifieds company from sending documents that appear to be invoices for classified ads.
Further, the postmaster in Santa Ana, Calif., where Employment Classifieds is based, is instructed to seize all mail related to what the Postal Service now classifies as "a false billing scheme."
The postmaster is also instructed not to cash any Postal Money Orders made out to the order of Employment Classified.
The cease and desist order is the strongest legal action taken yet against a company that has victimized countless newspapers ? some of whom may never have realized they were being scammed.
Typically, Employment Classifieds would first find a classified ad that had been placed in a newspaper and then reproduce part or all of the ad on a form that strongly resembled an invoice.
The form was loaded with instructions such as "PAY THIS AMOUNT" and "MAKE CHECK PAYABLE AND REMIT TO: Employment Classifieds, Attn: Accounts Receivable, 3337 South Britstol, Suite 146, Santa Ana, Calif. 92704."
Above the classified ad taken from a newspaper, Employment Classifieds would print the words, "Your advertisement as listed on," followed by the date of publication in the newspaper.
Two hard-to-read disclaimers are printed on the form.
One, printed in eye-straining small and dense type, reads, "This advertisement has been placed in another publication."
Another disclaimer is larger, but printed in yellow against a pale blue background ? which tends to turn to all dark if the "invoice" is photocopied.
The administrative law judge in the case noted in the opinion, "I find from my own observation of the originals of [Employment Classifieds'] solicitations in evidence in this case that the effect of the yellow print on the light blue background is that the print blends into the background, making it difficult to even recognize that the printing is there."
Employment Classifieds cast a wide and eclectic net across the country, lifting ads from such disparate papers as the Daily Herald in Arlington Heights, Ill., and the Albuquerque Journal (E&P, Nov. 27, p. 26).
Newspapers in Wisconsin, North Carolina and California were among the victims of the bogus invoices.
Typically, a newspaper discovered the scam when a customer would complain about being double-billed for an advertisement already paid for.
In the case of the Daily Herald, Employment Classifieds sent its invoice to the newspaper's own post office box for blind ad responses.
In Wisconsin, one of the victims was a prominent appellate judge who had advertised in the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel.
He added his complaint to one lodged by the newspapers, said Paul Kritzer, vice president/legal for Journal Communications.
Kritzer said there have been no recent problems with Employment Classifieds, whose bogus invoices plagued the Journal/Sentinel papers since 1991.
"In this case, no news is good news," he said.
Employment Classifieds' Kortje could not be located for comment. Directory assistance said there was no listing for the company in Santa Ana.
By: Mark Fitzgerald Postal Service takes action against bogus ad invoicing scheme p. 25