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A U.S. Postal Inspection Service document states that the post office will refuse to deliver any nonconforming mailings if they come to the attention of postal employees.
Inspectors have shown some interest in the issue in the past, “but it was never set up so they could do an extended investigation,” Grantz said.
“We have our analysts go through our fraud complaint database and look for trends. If there are a number of complaints we can build it up into a larger case,” said Brian Haraway, a Milwaukee postal inspector.
Problem is bad, but better?
The problem of unauthorized third-party sales is not as bad as it used to be, Grantz said, but “they’re clearly still out there.” Crain has taken some measures to stem the flow including jettisoning some clearinghouses and stiffening hiring rules for others.
Grantz said unauthorized sellers have changed their methods. They now charge a much higher price, and send the subscription orders directly to the publisher without providing a return address. The orders come in with just the subscriber’s information typed onto a scan of a subscription card, the kind normally inserted into magazines. Payment is by bank check.
The new practice also makes it harder for publishers to sue for damages, since they are paid in full for the subscriptions. Customers are the ones with the direct loss these days, Grantz said.
Those customers may very well slant to an older age group. “We do think they’re taking advantage of customers that are more elderly and more likely to just pay the bill because they are more used to just taking care of bills,” he said.
What you can do
Most legitimate renewals will have your subscription expiration date on the renewal notice. Beware of those that don’t. The address label on your magazine usually shows the proper date.
Before responding to a solicitation, check online or call the publisher to find out the current rate being offered for the magazine.
If you receive a solicitation disguised as a bill and it doesn’t have a lengthy disclaimer in big, bold type, contact your postmaster or send the solicitation to the Postal Inspection Service at 1745 Stout St., Suite 900, Denver CO 80299-3034.
The Federal Trade Commission suggests you also report the mailing to the Office of Attorney General Lori Swanson or the Better Business Bureau.
Jane Friedmann • 612-673-7852