Circulation scam: Fake subscriptions hurting newspapers
January 14, 2015
By Sara DeForge Hough
American PressWorks | Government Relations/Manager
Fraudulent bills, invoices and renewal notices are being issued by a third party to skim money from unsuspecting subscribers in parts of the nation. The scammers imply they are associated with the publication and purport to offer a discounted price, when in fact, most of the time the subscription prices are grossly inflated. Notices have also been sent for publications that simply do not exist.
Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has brought a consumer protection suit against two publication subscription groups in Oregon for unfair, false, misleading and deceptive trade practices that reached into his state. The complaint alleges violations of the direct mail rule, fraudulent representations and violations against the elderly who have been directly targeted by this scam. The Wisconsin Department of Justice is working with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection in this lawsuit.
The Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Postal Service and the U.S. Department of Justice are also aware of the problem and looking into these groups.
Newspapers can protect their subscribers by urging customers to pay through the subscription department or by paying directly to the newspaper’s website. Inform subscribers of these publishing services groups and alert readers to disregard any invoices that do not come directly from your newspaper.
Please report any fraudulent activity to your state attorney general’s office (www.naag.org), local consumer protection agency (www.usa.gov/topics/consumer.shtml) and the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov).
The publishing services groups have taken many aliases including, but not limited to: United Publishers Service, Publishers Billing Association, Associated Publishers Network, Publishers Payment, Circulation Billing Services, Publishers Billing Center, United Publishers Services, Publishers Distribution Services, Publishers Billing Emporium, Publishers Billing Exchange, Subscription Billing Services, Circulation Billing Center, Publishers Periodical Service, Readers Payment Services, Publishers Payment Services, United Publishers Network, and Publishers Billing Services. Complaint at 2-3, State of Wisconsin v. Laura Lovrien, Liberty Publishers Service Inc. & Orbital Publishing Group, Inc., No. 14-CX-53 (Wis. Nov. 25, 2014).