Keeping track of magazine and newspaper subscriptions isn't easy under the best of circumstances. Magazines are constantly exhorting subscribers to renew even though their subscription has many months or years to go. And newspapers have lately been changing their subscription practices, often billing for several months at a time.
It's a situation made for scam artists, who have flooded the country's mailboxes -- real ones, not virtual ones -- with what appear to be valid renewal notices. The trouble is, they're fake.
Publications are beginning to address the problem, which has alienated readers and caused their subscription departments no end of grief.
A recent notice in The New York Times noted that it does not send renewal notices to customers because subscriptions renew automatically. It also noted that most of the bogus notices instruction customers to send checks to addresses in Oregon or Nevada.
The notices are often for inflated prices. An example cited in the Times warning asks for payment of $1,099 for a one-year subscription. In fact, the Times' published price for seven-day home delivery is $878, although that's not a number that is easy to find without wading through several pages on the Times website, reviewing the many "special offers" and then calculating what the price would be once the initial promotional price expires.
The Better Business Bureau recently issued these tips to help consumers spot subscription scams, using a bogus renewal notice from the Cincinnati Enquirer as an example:
- The price and billing period is different than normal. Watch for higher prices and longer commitment periods (for example, a year's subscription instead of monthly).
- Look for typos. As in many scams, con artists aren't as careful with the details. In the Cincinnati Enquirer version, the newspaper's name is misspelled "Cincinnatti Enquirer."
- The bill comes from a different business located in another state. Many of these scams have you sending money halfway across the country to a business you've never heard of.
- Confirm with the newspaper. If you aren't sure, call the newspaper's subscription department to double check. Just be sure to find the phone number on the website or previous bill -- not the notice you suspect is a scam. Of course, many newspapers, like the Washington Post, are now impervious to subscriber phone calls, having perfected a voicemail tree that wears out the most patient and persistent callers.