St. Louis, Mo., Sept. 26, 2012 - The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning consumers to be extremely cautious when dealing with magazine sales telemarketers after the family of a Missouri widow said she had signed up for more than $14,000 in subscriptions – the vast majority of which she never read.
The woman’s daughters said their 82-year-old mother, who lives in Warrenton, Mo., was so overwhelmed and embarrassed that she didn’t tell her family what was happening. They said they learned of the extent of the problem only recently, after inspecting her credit card statements and checkbook records.
The daughters said their mother has since told them that she often was so confused by the companies’ sales pitches that she didn’t realize she was ordering new magazines or extending subscriptions on old ones until she received the bills. She told them that the callers either took payments directly out of her bank account or harassed and intimidated her until she made payments.
“We just want mom not to have to deal with this anymore,” said one of the daughters.
Randall Hoth, Wisconsin BBB president and CEO, said the case offers an extreme example of what can happen when consumers are targeted by aggressive magazine salespeople. “People should understand that there are unscrupulous telemarketers who simply won’t take ‘no’ for an answer and who will promise almost anything to make a sale.
“Never let these people coerce or bully you into buying something you don’t want or need,” he said.
The BBB has received numerous complaints about magazine telemarketers, often from senior citizens or their families. Most of the complaints involve third-party marketers, who sell magazines on behalf of publishers across the nation. Several of these businesses have “F” ratings with the BBB, the lowest possible.
The two daughters said they believe their mother’s problems began as early as 2006 when she decided to take out four magazine subscriptions through a telemarketer. Eventually, the woman purchased more than 20 subscriptions from at least 15 different soliciting firms. Among the magazines were Rolling Stone, Golf Tips Magazine, Bassmaster Magazine, I Love Cats Magazine, Cruising and Men’s Health Magazine – none of which she would have had any interest in, according to her daughters.
Most of the magazines went directly into a paper recycling bin or were donated, unread, to a local nursing home.
Copies of the woman’s checks show significant payments to magazine marketing companies. A May 2010 check for $899 went to one company; a September 2010 check for $792 was paid to another company. The woman paid a third company $449 in May 2011.
The daughters say their mother has made an advance payment for one subscription through 2026 and another for a subscription through 2024.
In recent weeks, the daughters say they have been trying to get refunds from the companies, with little success. Thus far, they have managed to get a single $200 refund from one company after canceling a subscription.
The Federal Trade Commission has warned consumers to beware of sales pitches for ‘free,’ ‘prepaid,’ or ‘special’ magazine subscription deals. The FTC warned that in some states, “you’re legally obligated to pay for a subscription once you verbally agree to it.”
In recent months, the BBB also has alerted the public to a variety of door-to-door magazine sellers who have taken money for subscriptions that were never delivered.
The BBB and FTC offer the following advice to consumers contacted by a magazine telemarketer: