Educational Consumer Tips
Author: Better Business Bureau
The following is BBB general information and is not intended as a report on any specific company.
The BBB receives thousands of complaints each year from consumers who have unknowingly purchased multiyear magazine subscriptions. Unscrupulous telemarketers sometimes trick consumers into paying hundreds of dollars for multiyear subscriptions to magazines they don't want or can't afford.
When a telephone salesperson offers a package of magazines for a few dollars a week, it may sound like a real bargain. Yet the deal may include inflated prices and subscriptions stretching over several years.
If you're contacted by a magazine telemarketer, listen carefully to the initial sales presentation. Don't be afraid to interrupt and ask questions. If you're not interested, say good-bye and hang up. If it sounds like a good deal and you're interested in buying, ask the caller for his or her name, and the name, address and telephone number of the company. Contact the BBB for a reliability report on the company.
Before buying anything, ask for the total yearly cost of each magazine and of the whole package. Compare those costs to regular magazine subscription rates. Also, ask to receive a written copy of the sales terms offered over the telephone. Don't give your credit card or bank account information unless you're making payment. There is no reason why the company would need that information for any other purpose.
Beware of telephone sales pitches for "free," "prepaid," or "special" magazine subscription deals. An impulse purchase could leave you with years of monthly payments for magazines you may no longer want or could buy for less elsewhere.
Of course, thousands of consumers buy magazine subscriptions from legitimate telemarketers every year. Yet, some unscrupulous salespeople trick consumers into paying hundreds of dollars for multi-year subscriptions.
Here's how to tell the legitimate offers from bogus ones:
A postcard that says nothing about magazine subscriptions but asks you to call a telephone number about a contest, prize, or sweepstakes entry. If you call, you may get information about contest prizes or drawing dates - but it turns into a sales pitch for magazine subscriptions.
Sales people who don't identify themselves as such or who may not give you the name of their company. They may lead you to believe they represent major credit card companies or magazine publishers, or that they are calling for purposes other than selling subscriptions.
Sales people who encourage you to purchase without giving you total costs. For example, a salesperson may offer magazines for just a few dollars a week. This may sound like a bargain until you do the math. You could be paying hundreds of dollars for subscriptions that sell elsewhere for less.
Sales people who tell you magazines are "free" or "pre-paid" for you and that you'll only be charged a "processing fee." The fee may be more than the retail price of the magazine subscription.
Companies that say they're "approved" or "regulated" by the federal, state, or local government. No government agency approves or endorses such operations.
The FTC's Telemarketing Sales Rule requires certain disclosures and prohibits misrepresentations. It gives you the power to stop unwanted telemarketing calls and gives state law enforcement officers the authority to prosecute fraudulent telemarketers who operate across state lines. Under the FTC's rule, you may cancel any order within three days of the receipt of the agreement.
Although there's no federal law governing cancellation of telephone agreements, certain state and local laws require telemarketers to provide a cancellation period. However, many magazine subscription companies do not honor verbal cancellations. To make sure your cancellation notice is honored, it's best to submit it in writing and within a certain time period.
If you want to cancel a subscription you've purchased over the phone, take the following steps:
Watch your mail for the sales agreement; it may come in a plain or "junk mail" type envelope. Look for the cancellation terms; cancellation usually is allowed within three days of your receipt of the agreement.
The cancellation notice may be hard to find; often it's attached to an inside page of multiple copies of the sales agreement.
Sign the cancellation notice and return it to the proper address. That may be hard to find, because several addresses may be listed. Send the notice by certified or registered mail, so you have proof of your mailing date.
When you send the cancellation notice, contact your bank or credit card company to stop any unauthorized payments from your account or to dispute any charges or debits to your account.
The company may tell you that your cancellation request was too late and that you must pay. Check with your state Attorney General to find out what cancellation rights you may have under state law.
If the cancellation period expired and you paid in full, the company may not be required to refund your money. If you don't make proper payments on time, you could get dunning notices and calls from collection agencies, threats of legal action, or a bad credit rating.
If you think you've been victimized by a magazine subscription scam, contact the BBB to file a complaint. You may also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Write: Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, D.C. 20580, or go to www.ftc.gov. Although the FTC does not intervene in individual disputes, the information you provide may indicate a pattern of possible law violations requiring action by the Commission.