One of the fastest-growing crimes against business -- the fraudulent sale of office supplies--often starts with an innocent-sounding phone call asking to check the model number of the office copying machine.

That call provides the information and the entree for salesmen following a carefully-practiced script to sell second-rate products at inflated prices, U.S. Postal Inspectors say.

Although the caller pretends to be a regular supplier talking to a repeat customer, he's actually a total stranger who picks business names out of the phone book, baits his hook with a plea for help, then subtly extracts the information needed to send a shipment to the victim.

When federal prosecutors obtained search warrants for Mid-State Chemical Co. of Baltimore, they found this script which was used in the indictment of six Mid-State employes on mail fraud charges:

"Hello, this is ------, I need to check the model number on your copy machine. You know, the photocopier in the office? The number I need is on the front of the machine, right by the number plate.

"Who could I speak to about a mix-up? You know, who buys the supplies, stuff like that for the thing.

"Hello -----, this is ----- and I'm calling from the warehouse at the Mid-State Chemical Company about your ----- machine. You know, the photocopier in the office? Yes, we had a mix-up and my boss said to call and talk to the person who buys supplies for the thing, do you know who that is. You're still over on (street) right?

"What happened is we have a customer close by you who was running the same model machine as you. You know, the ----- machine. Well, last week they switched machines on us and got a different model. You know, a bigger one? Yes. When they switched they didn't let me know about it soon enough and I had already gone ahead and sent out their normal order of toner. You know, it's the ink you pour in the machine? Yes.

"That's why my boss said to call you, because you're close by and running the same model machine they used to have. So he said that if you wouldn't mind helping out a little bit, what I could do is re-route a small part of that order over there. But he said instead of the list price, to just go ahead and mark it down to the Warehouse Price this time--You know, for helping out?"

Then the script tells the salesman to "Stop-Listen-Answer Objections," then proceed.

"But what I need to do is mark the labels to your attention, so you can check it and make sure its been discounted for you. How do you spell your last name?

"OK, check it when it gets in and make sure its not at the list price, you know, the $128.40 a box? The list? The boss said he's going to mark it down to $98 a box. What's the zip code right at the building? OK, the boss said because of the mix-up and the discount, he's going to send the paperwork straight out of the Mid-State Chemical Co. itself, right from the warehouse, so there's no confusion.

"Thanks for the help.

"Bye!"