St. Louis, Mo., July 18, 2012 - Nearly 2,000 businesses, including dozens in Missouri and Illinois, have filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) claiming that a Pennsylvania firm billed them for publications and newsletter subscriptions they never ordered and, in some cases, never received.
The BBB suggests caution when dealing with representatives of Progressive Business Publications of Malvern, Pa. The company has an “F” grade with the BBB, the lowest grade possible. Philadelphia businessman and philanthropist Edward M. Satell is founder, president and CEO of American Future Systems, parent company of Progressive Business Solutions.
Progressive billed complainants as much as $700, although some bills were under $100. Some businesses said Progressive had offered the publications for free, only to charge them later without their approval. Others said they had no contact with Progressive before receiving invoices from the company. Still others said they learned of the newsletters only after they were contacted by International Credit Recovery, a New York firm hired to collect past-due debts for Progressive. That company also has an “F” grade with the BBB.
Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO, said the vast majority of the BBB complaints follow a disturbing pattern.
“Many of these businesses are clearly frustrated and angry,” she said. “They complain that the company tries to get them to pay for products they never ordered and did not want, or that they believe were provided without charge.” Corey said some of the businesses say they have fought Progressive for months over the company’s billing practices.
Complaints against Progressive and International Credit Recovery have come from all 50 states and Washington, D. C. In the past 12 months, the BBB logged about 900 complaints against Progressive and more than 280 complaints against International Credit Recovery.
In those 12 months, California showed the largest number of complaints against the two companies (138); Texas was second with 91, and New York third with 81. Illinois businesses filed 57 complaints; Missouri businesses filed 29.
Most complainants said they felt pressured to pay for publications they did not want.
“We are not paying them one cent for something we have never ordered,” said a complainant from Northridge, Calif.
“Please help stop companies such as this,” pleaded a complainant from Louisville, Ky., who said he felt coerced into paying $306 for a newsletter he never ordered.
A vice president for a St. Louis-based software development company said a Progressive representative contacted him by phone and offered him a free Internet and marketing newsletter. He said the representative described the offer as “100 percent free, with no strings attached.”
Two months later, he said, he received an invoice for $299. “I thought it was a mistake,” the man said. “I did not order anything; I have not used their product.” He filed a complaint with the BBB when Progressive notified him that it was turning the bill over to a collections agency. “I was very disappointed that a business would be conducted in this way,” he said.
A finance manager for a government office in Granite City, Ill., said she was confused when she received a collections notification from International Credit Recovery, saying she owed $195 for a newsletter for administrative assistants. She said she never ordered and had never received the newsletter. Two months after reporting her concerns to the BBB, International and Progressive agreed to stop pursuing the bill.
On its website, Progressive Business Publications describes itself as a “diversified education and business information company that provides time-sensitive, how-to, and reference information, both in print and online, to help professionals and business executives do their jobs better.” The site says the company’s publishing division produces 25 newsletters for businesses, nonprofits and medical companies.
According to the website, Satell founded American Future Systems in 1959 as a distribution and finance company specializing in the sale of high-end cookware and china. In the late 1980s, Satell founded Progressive Business Publications, and the company began the distribution of specialized newsletters to businesses.
In a written response to BBB questions, a company official said that Progressive Business Publications has processed more than 1.5 million transactions in the past three years, and the number of complaints “represents only a small fraction of less than 1 percent of total transactions processed. This enviable record speaks for itself.” He also said that the company has “many tens of thousands of businesses that place renewal orders with us without incident.”
He said the company responds to every consumer complaint. “We are confident that . . . our records will prove conclusively that in all cases orders were in fact placed before any bills were sent.”
He also said that the company has a liberal cancellation policy, allowing cancellation anytime within five months of an order. He said the company regularly monitors its phone representatives for potential problems and records all calls.
The complaints, he said, often involve customers who either forgot that they had placed an order, were distracted during the call, or simply “don’t listen.”
He said the company has “very strict quality control procedures” for representatives taking phone orders. Several years ago, he said, Progressive began asking for a customer’s birth date in order to verify the order.
The BBB offers the following advice to consumers and businesses receiving phone solicitations:
- Find out who is calling. If you have any question about who is phoning you, hang up and call back after researching the company’s number.
- Be wary of giving any personal or business information to strangers. Such information may be used later as evidence that you agreed to a purchase.
- Be cautious about accepting free or trial offers. Some businesses may distribute their product at no cost for a short time, but then charge you unless you follow very specific cancellation instructions.
- If you feel you have been charged for a product you have not ordered, call the company immediately to make your case. If that does not work, contact the BBB, the attorney general in your state and/or the Federal Trade Commission.
- Check BBB Business Reviews by calling 314-645-3300 or at www.bbb.org.
Michelle Corey, President & CEO, 314-584-6800, firstname.lastname@example.org
, or Chris Thetford, Vice President-Communications, 314-584-6743, email@example.com
, or Bill Smith, Trade Practice Investigator, 314-584-6727, firstname.lastname@example.org