Read Fine Print to Avoid Subscribing to a Scam
Sign up for a magazine offer without reading the fine print, and you may learn later that you've subscribed to a scam.
Scams and misleading offers typically come from magazine sales representatives at an unscrupulous sales company rather than from the publisher who produces the magazine. In some cases, door-to-door salespeople even may be working solely for themselves, with no intent to deliver any type of publication.
The wide range of magazine subscription sales complaints is reflected in the ongoing warnings about subscription scams issued by state agencies charged with consumer protection. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also offers advice about coping with magazine scams.
The Magazine Publishers of America (MPA), New York, notes that more than 300 million magazine subscriptions are sold each year in the U.S., with "the vast majority" of transactions resulting in satisfied readers who enjoy regular delivery of their desired publications to their homes or offices.
In contrast, people who subscribe to fraudulent or misleading offers may say they never received their magazines; were deliberately misled about the cost of the magazines or the length of the subscriptions; or were not told that the subscriptions would be renewed automatically unless they called to cancel within a set time period.
Many consumer complaints about magazine subscription offers could be avoided if consumers read the fine print or asked more questions, according to Shawn Conroy, spokesperson for the Georgia Governor's Office of Consumer Affairs, Atlanta.
In 2007, the agency reached a settlement with American Reading Club Inc., a Georgia company that allegedly used "unfair or deceptive acts or practices" for magazine sales. The magazine sales company mailed postcards telling consumers they either had been entered in a cash sweepstakes or had won "free" prizes and encouraged them to call a toll-free number. In reality, consumers allegedly had to purchase a magazine subscription to qualify for the prize drawing.
More than 300 million magazine subscriptions are sold each year in the U.S.
The company denied the allegations and the related claims that it misled consumers by making telemarketing calls without disclosing the terms of cancellation policies or the actual costs of magazine subscriptions, billed credit cards but then failed to deliver magazines, and refused to provide refunds to consumers who never received magazines
Complaints about scams or misleading offers may be based on magazine sales that were made online, by sales representatives going door-to-door, by telemarketers, or by offers extended to customers while they are paying for goods at a retail or discount store.
Before accepting any of these offers, make sure you understand:
Telemarketing offers always should raise a red flag, Conroy says, especially if the telemarketer asks for account or credit card numbers.
"If you're on the federal no-call list and you're getting a phone call like this, you need to be suspicious," he says. The magazine offer may be an attempt to commit identity theft and gain access to your credit card or account information.
If you paid with a credit card, you may be able to dispute the charges.
Even if the offer is genuine, accepting it can be costly. Conroy notes that magazines sold by third parties via telemarketing or door-to-door sales can cost two to three times the cost of a subscription purchased directly from a publisher.
If you believe that misrepresentation was used to persuade you to purchase a magazine, Conroy advises reporting it to your state's consumer protection agency. If you paid with a credit card, you also may be able to dispute the charges.
"It's possible that the credit card company may already have received so many complaints about this particular company that they might have helpful information for you," Conroy says.
Conroy notes that sales representatives who engage in fraudulent or misleading subscription practices often target college students, the elderly, and the disabled. Members of these groups are likely to be home during the day to take telemarketers' calls. They also are likely to be more trusting.
Prevent a scam
Following simple rules can help you get access to magazines without paying an unacceptable price.
Read for free
Consumers can access many magazines at the local public library. Libraries typically subscribe to a wide range of publications to meet the needs of most readers, making it easy to review a publication for free.
Conroy also suggests that consumers check out a magazine by visiting its Web site, where full or partial content of each issue is often posted. If reading more persuades you to buy a subscription, at least you'll know what you're getting.
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