August 05, 2009Snail Mail Deceptions
My focus here for years has been on spam of the electronic variety. But a piece of snail mail crossed my desk today that deserves comment because it points to the fact that consumers have to be wary of any offer that comes their way.
Even in this electronic age, I still subscribe to several dead tree magazines. I received an envelope offering a renewal to one of the magazines to which I have subscribed for many years. But unlike previous legitimate subscriptions renewals, this one came from a third party calling itself Publishers Billing Exchange, Inc.
Over the years, I've seen warnings by many of my publications advising that legitimate renewals are mailed out directly by the publisher. But I'll bet that many subscribers don't pay attention to those warnings. And this third-party offer looks very credible, nay, reminiscent of renewals coming direct from some magazines. There is a toll-free phone number to call for customer service, and an offer to let me make two monthly payments of $19.98 to cover the $39.95 subscription. They tell me I can "lock in at one our lowest rates."
I then spent some time with the fine print on the back of the form. If you've ever had a subscription to a print publication before, you are probably aware that the traditional way of handling cancellations is for the publisher to refund a prorated amount for unmailed issues. But not this outfit. Get this:
All offers are fully cancelable by calling our toll free number within 168 hours from the time the order is placed. After that, in most cases, cancellations will not be accepted. If a cancellation is accepted, it will be subject to a $20.00 processing fee.
This outfit must pray that recipients of this email piece don't have an internet connection. Anyone doing a Google search on the company name will get an eyeful.
Here and there, the mailing piece has some mild disclaimers, yet also calls itself a "clearinghouse" — intentionally (IMHO) to be confused with Publisher's Clearinghouse. I suspect these mailing pieces have been through an army of lawyers who know how to slice cheese with nanometer precision to stay just within FTC guidelines.
Caveat subscriber.Posted on August 05, 2009 at 11:08 PM