Kokua Line

June Watanabe

Subscribers should check
magazine offers carefully

Beware of mail solicitations that look like bills or invoices. A Kokua Line reader asked us to warn readers to be careful when they receive notices to renew magazine subscriptions.

She wrote about receiving a "Notice of Renewal/New Order" notice for her subscription to The Economist "from a company called Global Publication Service, 355 Industrial Circle, White City, Ore. Since I had renewed my subscription in early August directly through The Economist subscription department, alarm bells went off."

She said she contacted The Economist and was told that "Global Publication Service was not authorized to act in its behalf. I am particularly concerned about older folks who might dutifully mail off checks or money orders to these people."

She also noted that a regular year's subscription to The Economist is usually $129; Global Publication was offering it to her for $178.50.

On the back of its "notice of renewal/new order," Global Publication does have this disclaimer: "We are an independent magazine clearinghouse agent. We handle over 60 magazine titles and act as an independent subscription agent between the magazine publishers and clearinghouses in order to facilitate sales and service. As an agent we do not necessarily have a direct relationship with the publishers or publications that we offer. This is a magazine subscription offer not bill or invoice. You are under no obligation to either buy a magazine or renew at this time ..."

We called Global Publication and was connected with Rodeo Ray, director of operations for American Consumer Publishing. When we asked him to explain what Global Publication is, he said the description above pretty much covered it.

He later elaborated that "we deal with over 1,300 different publications; we deal directly with the clearinghouses; the clearinghouses deal directly with the publishers. That's how that works."

When we asked Ray about complaints that Global's solicitation looked like an invoice, he said, "The mail piece has been OK'd by the Postmaster General. There is nothing fraudulent about that mail piece."

Lynn Moore, manager of consumer affairs for the U.S. Postal Service in Hawaii, said the postal service's Domestic Mail Manual does have clear-cut regulations regarding "Solicitations in Guise of Bills, Invoices or Statements of Accounts," including required disclaimers to this effect: "This is not a bill. This is a solicitation. You are under no obligation to pay the amount stated above unless you accept this offer."

The disclaimer "has to be pretty conspicuous" and "pretty straightforward," Moore said. So, "yes, you can mail something that is not a bill or invoice or statement of account due. And, it can be a solicitation. However, it must conform to certain formats ... there are required disclaimers."

Moore added that these regulations are not only part of the postal code, but of the U.S. Code.

Global Publication Service is one of the many DBA (doing business as) names used by American Consumer Publishing Inc., according to the Better Business Bureau of Oregon and Western Washington. Other DBAs listed are Allied Publishing Service Inc., Associated Publishers Subscription Services, Consumer Publishing Association Inc., Global Publication Services, Platinum Publishing Service, Publishers Consolidated Subscription Services, Publishers Marketplace of America, Publishers Services Exchange, Publishers Services Network and United Publishers Network.

According to the BBB's Web site, "Based on BBB standards, this company has an unsatisfactory record with the Bureau due to a pattern of unanswered complaints. The company has resolved some complaints presented by the Bureau; however, the Bureau did not receive a response to other complaints."

Complaints concerned credit, performance, delivery and misleading selling and advertising practices, according to the BBB.

However, when asked to respond to that report, Ray said that "every complaint that comes into this office is addressed whether it's Attorney General or Better Business Bureau."

Stephen Levins, of the Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection, said there were no complaints about Global Publication on file with his office.

His advice to consumers is to "carefully review" any bill "to make sure that it pertains to something they ordered."

We asked the Better Business Bureau of Hawaii about such solicitations and it responded with an advisory about "Phony Magazine Invoices," basically warning consumers not to "be victimized by companies who try to get you to order goods or services by mailing solicitations that look like invoices or renewal notices."

Whenever you receive such mailings, the BBB of Hawaii says:

>> If you are already a subscriber, check the subscription expiration date on your magazine label and match it to the renewal date on the invoice.

>> Check the invoice or notice carefully to see if it came from your publisher.

>> If you're not a subscriber and you didn't order any magazines, you are not obligated to pay.

>> Some solicitations disguise their true nature. Others identify themselves as solicitations. Carefully read the fine print.

>> Verify with family members if anyone actually ordered or received the goods or services reflected on the document. If not, do not pay.

>> Call the BBB for a report on the company. The BBB of Hawaii's number is 536-6956.

The BBB says it can also help you file a complaint with the U.S. Postal Service and the Federal Trade Commission if you are a victim of mail fraud.


See the Columnists section for some past articles.

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