A Harum-Scarum Scam

August 15, 2014 § 10 Comments

Periodical print publications are, I fear, going the way of the aurochs due to the internet. So publishers have had to contrive some clever ways to troll for prospective subscribers.

One honest strategy is to get sample magazines into the hands of potential subscribers in hopes that they will say “Why not,” and take the plunge. For instance, I recently ordered some shirts from a catalog, and *VOILA!* I am now receiving gratis a rotating subscription (for I do not know how long) to the various Condé-Nast publications, not a single one of which in the non-gratis world would I bother to pick up, much less read. These are a “bonus” for my catalog order. Until this week I had received Vogue, Glamour, and Travel & Leisure.

This week the rotation brought me a copy of Gentlemen’s Quarterly magazine here at the courthouse. The 98%-nude model on the cover set off quite a titilation — so to speak — up here on the second floor, as you can imagine. One of our local barristers took the issue home with him, no doubt to do forensic study. Thanks to these publications I have wearily become accustomed to having to explain to everyone who sees my mail on the desk of the court administrator that I did not subscribe … blah, blah, blah … you know the rest of the story.

Some publishers, however, have taken the low road.

My wife subscribed for several years to a certain magazine. She simply subscribed, using one of those little cards that fall on the floor in the doctor’s office. She did not sign a contract with a door-to-door magazine peddler. That periodical, as is the custom, sends out renewal notices almost from the first month of your subscription offering phenomenal deals in the hope, I guess, that you will keep extending your enlistment and they will keep on receiving injections of your cash. Every promo they send is marked “Urgent!” and “Last Chance” and “Warning — Offer Expiring.”

So far not so bad. Annoying, but not so bad. My wife chose to ignore the offers and let her subscription lapse.

But this is where it takes an unhappy turn. This week she received notice that if she did not remit $20.97 immediately, her account would be turned over for collection. Yes, collection.

She was upset when she showed me the notice. Why should she be dunned and sued over this? She did not understand. I reassured her that she owes them nada. I pointed that, even if she did owe them something, no business could stay in business by turning over $20 accounts for collection.

My wife had the benefit of counsel. But I wonder how many recipients of a similar notice without legal knowledge simply caved in out of fear of lawyers and telephone collectors dunning them at all hours. A check for $20 is a small price to pay to be shed of that worry. Multiply that by thousands of letters, and you have a nice subscribership built on peeople who would rather pay a few bucks in the equivalent of blackmail than be sued.

So this is what business has come to nowadays.

Years ago there was a common scam that an unscrupulous business would send you a package — a pair of stockings, say, or a small box of candy — that you did not order. If you opened it, you were obligated to pay the enclosed invoice, which might be 10, 20 or 50 times more than you would pay for a similar item downtown at the nicest department store. The UCC put an end to that by providing that if a merchant sends you merchandise you did not order, it is yours to keep.

At least that is my understanding of the law. I don’t believe our legislature has changed it. Could be that the law was changed in Washington, where corporations that pay the price of admission to the halls of the Capitol have acquired immense power over those who are supposed to represent us, to the extent that now corporations are recognized as being people … as in “We, the people …”

We’re not going to pay the magazine its extortion. I hope many others who receive similar letters recognize this for the scam it is and trash that offensive letter.

Whatever it takes. That seems to be the code of commerce in this age.

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§ 10 Responses to A Harum-Scarum Scam

  • carter says:

    And there is another scam. I subscribe to Biblical Archaeology Review, and I get their notices about renewing my subscription. Last Friday I got a notice from a third party to renew my BAR subscription and it was at 3X the usual price. I contacted BAR (by the way, my subscription doesn’t expire for 2 more years), and they told me that there is no connection between them and the third party.

  • hale1090 says:

    Sounds like a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, by making a misleading statement related to “the character, amount, or legal status of the debt” coupled with an “any action that cannot legally be taken or that is not intended to be taken.” 15 U.S.C. 807(1) & (5).

    The elderly are particular vulnerable to this scheme particularly since the remedy is unknown to them and often not worth pursuing.

    • Bob Wolford says:

      Another claim, maybe more significant, would probably lie under the Fair Credit Reporting Act for slamming somebody’s credit report.

      • reidkrell says:

        No private right of action under FCRA against furnishers of credit reporting information; only action by state attorney general.

  • Bob Wolford says:

    Aurochs- makes me wonder what type of steaks folks ate way back then.

    Yep, it’s Friday.

  • Cindy Mitchell says:

    Now I understand why I have been getting Teen Vogue and Field and Stream since last Christmas. Nice blog post.

  • Reid Krell says:

    One thing to be careful of: under the FDCPA, you may get stuck with a debt if you don’t contest its validity when sent the dunning letter. This is a small part of my practice, so I’ve never had occasion to research the issue, but were I a creditor’s lawyer, you can bet I’d argue it.

    • Larry says:

      Thank you for that. My wife wrote her eloquent response on the letter they sent, explaining that she did not order it and that she wanted it cancelled. She stuffed it into the envelope and sent it back.

      It’s hard to imagine that someone can create a debt obligation out of thin air just by sending a letter. When business interests get to write the laws, mere humans always get trampled.

      • reidkrell says:

        Bob raises a good point – sending the dunning letter where no actual obligation exists might be an independent FDCPA violation. However, ignoring those letters is a risky business, because they escalate relatively quickly.

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