Back in January, Whistleblower described high-pressure sales tactics of magazine subscription peddlers and the resulting complaints from unhappy customers stuck in multi-year contracts. Last week, the Better Business Bureau singled out a magazine telemarketer in Crystal for a public warning.

The BBB revoked Midwest Publishers Home Office's accreditation in November and gave it an "F" rating because of complaints about "sales practice issues, non-delivery of magazines and free gifts, and customer service issues." The company charged more than it said it would or refused to honor promises to cancel subscriptions, customers told the BBB. Customers were also told they had won a $1,000 "shopping spree," but they would get it only if they subscribed to magazines.

Tim Hanssen, vice president of operations at Midwest Publishers, calls the BBB's statement "preposterous." He admitted that the $1,000 shopping spree, offered by a third-party vendor, turned out to be an "inadequate incentive," so it was dropped last year. Instead of getting money, the recipients could buy certain items that were not "quality merchandise," he said.

But Hanssen rejects the rest of the BBB's claims. He says his company is about seven years old, employs 12 people and serves about 2,000 customers. "We have so many happy customers," he said. "Every now and then you have a complaining customer that has buyer's remorse."

The quickest way to a failing BBB grade is to ignore the BBB, but that wasn't the case with Midwest Publishers. In fact, the BBB acknowledges the company responded to each complaint and usually settled the accounts at whatever the customer had already paid. "However, based on the pattern of complaints, the company has failed to correct the underlying cause of the complaints," the BBB reported.

Hanssen accused the BBB of merely trying to collect membership fees, a common refrain of businesses since news reports last year raised questions about the integrity of the nonprofit watchdog group's grading system. But BBB spokesman Dan Hendrickson said his group went public last week because complaints about Midwest Publishers keep rolling in.

"We tried to work with them to maintain their good ratings," Hendrickson said. "Our efforts were not successful."

Record fine for debt collector

One of the nation's leading debt collection agencies, West Asset Management Inc., agreed to pay a $2.8 million fine after the Federal Trade Commission said its "aggressive collection techniques" violated federal law.

In a settlement announced last week, the FTC said thousands of consumers accused Georgia-based West Asset Management of harassing them with repeated phone calls, often for debts belonging to someone else; using "rude and abusive language"; charging credit cards and draining bank accounts without consent; and falsely claiming consumers would be "sued, arrested, or have their property seized for nonpayment of their debt."