When an invoice for $89 from a company called ASC-Exchange arrived at Sagamore Surgical Services in Lafayette, Ind., last week, it looked like any other invoice in the day's mail, except for one thing: It was demanding payment for services that no one at the center had requested.
On closer inspection, the invoice was also unusual in that it did not include a telephone number for ASC-Exchange, just a Houston, Texas, mailing address, an e-mail address and a website address. The company's website, an online subscription-based listing service that facilitates ASC-to-ASC buying, selling and trading of used and surplus equipment and supplies, didn't include a telephone number either. It was littered with misspellings and other errors. The invoice's mailing address could not be verified.
Sagamore's administrator and director of nursing, Carol Blanar, RN, BS, CNOR, is also executive director of the Indiana Federation of Ambulatory Surgical Centers. She'd heard that the Marion Eye Specialists Surgery Center in Marion, Ind., had received a similarly unsolicited "payment due" notice from the company. "I believe this is a hoax and a way to get money from the ASCs," she wrote in an e-mail to Outpatient Surgery Magazine.
According to representatives of ASC-Exchange, the invoices were not a ploy. "Over 1,100 centers received free trial subscriptions. To renew their subscriptions there is an $89 annual fee. If this was not clear we sincerely apologize," wrote an unnamed company rep in an e-mail. "Should someone choose not to renew their membership there is no consequence other than the trial subscription expires. We have been contacted by many centers that have chosen not to renew, and we immediately issue credits."
Following our request for comment, the front page of the company's website had, as of Monday, been updated to explain the invoices. It still didn't list a phone number, and when a company rep identifying himself as Fred Silver called us later that day to describe the invoices as a marketing strategy, he refused to give his number.
To ASC administrators, the company's "opt-out" subscription model seems somewhat deceptive, especially because they were never notified of the "free trial." And it demonstrated the importance of monitoring your business office's activities.
You've got to remain on guard, says Ms. Blanar. "In a small business, a lot of times all the magazine subscriptions and other invoices go straight to accounts payable. They'll just pay it, thinking it's a legitimate thing," she says. "If you send out a subscription offer as an invoice, that's just nasty."
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