The state attorney general on Tuesday sued four companies for fraud after they allegedly sent Minnesotans false notices to renew magazine and newspaper subscriptions at exorbitant prices.
The companies, all from Oregon, have been conducting the campaign nationwide with mailings that appear to be invoices for publications.
The mailings quote renewal prices much higher than regular subscription rates. Some newspaper renewals are for $499 for a one-year subscription, nearly double the regular rate.
In Minnesota, the scheme has been aimed at readers of such local publications as the Star Tribune and Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal as well as national titles, including the New York Times.
The four companies named in the suit, which was filed in Hennepin County Court, are Orbital Publishing Group Inc., Associated Publishers Network, Liberty Publishers Service Inc. and Express Publishers Service Inc.
Similar suits were filed Tuesday by attorneys general in several other states, including Oregon, New York, Missouri and Texas.
An attorney representing Orbital didn't return a call for comment Tuesday afternoon.
Many senior citizens have been affected by the renewals, said Ben Wogsland, spokesman for Attorney General Lori Swanson
In one example, an 80-year-old woman in St. Peter was charged $80 by one of the firms to purportedly renew TV Guide, which itself charges $16.50 for an annual subscription.
The fraudulent renewals have been occurring for several years. One company, known as United Publishers Network, has nearly 50 aliases, so the BBB aggregates them as Publishers Payment Processing. It has 13 unanswered complaints, six unresolved complaints and has an "F" rating with the bureau.
The Better Business Bureau has received nearly 800 complaints about renewal fraud, said Dan Hendrickson, communications coordinator for the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota.
Complaints have slowed since the beginning of the year at the BBB, which Hendrickson said may be due to awareness of the fraud. In November, Wisconsin's attorney general sued Orbital Publishing Group. The Federal Trade Commission also issued an alert and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service is investigating.
In an unauthorized offer sent by Associated Publishers Network, a letter states that APN functions as "an independent subscription agent between the magazine publishers and clearinghouses in order to facilitate sales and service." It goes on to state that, "As an agent we do not necessarily have a direct relationship with the publishers or publications that we offer."
Subscribers of the Star Tribune can get information about their account online at www.startribune.com/myaccount or call for service to 612-673-4343 or 1-800-775-4344. The mailing address for payments to the Star Tribune is PO Box 790387, St. Louis, MO 63179-0387.