Oregon AG’s Office Puts Magazine Subscription Scam Out of Business

Ellen Rosenblum, Oregon State Attorney General
Ellen Rosenblum, Oregon State Attorney General

We received big news this week from the Oregon Attorney General’s Office when Ellen Rosenblum announced a $3 million settlement with Publisher’s Payment Processing.

According to the AG’s office, the White City company had operated a nationwide scam through a newspaper and magazine subscription ruse.

The numbers are staggering.

Better Business Bureau has received more than 800 complaints against the company within the last 3 years. These include sales and delivery issues as well as problems with service. The most common complaint was billing and collection issues. The volume of complaints, as well as the company’s failure to respond to many of them, have contributed to an F rating for the business.

Consumers told BBB they received bills from the company for magazines they already have subscriptions for, implying it was time for renewal. However, those consumers told us the subscriptions had not expired and they did not originally order from Publisher’s Payment Processing. What’s more, some consumers said the company claimed to have the lowest renewal fee, but they found they could get a better price if they ordered through their magazine’s publisher directly. Many told BBB that Publisher’s Payment Processing would charge a $20 processing fee just to cancel renewals.

The AG’s office says the settlement is not an admission of guilt, but Publisher’s Payment Processing will have to pay up to $500,000 in restitution to Oregon consumers who overpaid or did not receive their magazines. Service fees will also be refunded to Oregonians who have previously received refunds.

“This was a sophisticated operation that generated millions of dollars each year from consumers across the country who thought they were doing business with a reputable magazine or newspaper publisher, but were instead working with a company that made its money by scamming them,” Rosenblum said. “It’s a particular embarrassment to the legitimate Oregon business community when national companies based here don’t play by the rules. The only option was to shut them down—and we have.”

Read the complete Assurance of Voluntary Compliance here.

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National Consumer Protection Week

Your ‪BBB‬ is partnering with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office to celebrate National Consumer Protection Week from March 1-7. Below, we’ve compiled warning signs and tips on 6 of the most common scams we’ve seen affect local consumers.

Be an informed consumer; avoid scams and fraud!

https://www.flickr.com/photos/zak/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/zak/

1. Phishing emails ask for personal info and may contain links to malware. Antivirus software can help, but the best protection is a good sense of judgment. Legitimate companies and government agencies never ask you to confirm personal info via email.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/rreyes-2010/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/rreyes-2010/

2. Don’t fall victim to an advance-fee loan scam. Check out the company at bbb.org/search. Be skeptical of any offer where you have to pay money up front. Walk away if you’re asked for money immediately, especially if it’s supposedly for “insurance,” “processing,” or “paperwork.”

https://www.flickr.com/photos/armydre2008/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/armydre2008/

3. With overpayment scams, a buyer “accidentally” sends you a check for more than the amount they owe. They ask you to deposit it and wire them the difference. The original check turns out to be a fake, leaving you on the hook to pay the bank for any money withdrawn. Always wait for a deposit to clear before writing checks against the funds—it can take weeks to uncover a fake check.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/filterforge/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/filterforge/

4. Identity theft scams come in all shapes and sizes—grandchildren “stranded” in a foreign country, the hotel front desk “verifying” your credit card in the middle of the night, “charity” solicitations from groups you’ve never supported in the past. Never give your Social Security, bank account or credit card numbers to someone who has contacted you to ask for them.

winner5. In a lottery/sweepstakes scam, you get an unsolicited phone call, email or letter stating you’ve won a prize, but in order to collect the winnings, you have to wire a small sum of money to pay for “processing fees” or “taxes.” You never get your “winnings,” and the scammer has your money. You never have to pay to receive legitimate winnings.

Wixphoto.com | FreeRangeStock.com
Wixphoto.com | FreeRangeStock.com

6. Itinerant contractors move around, keeping a step ahead of the law… and angry consumers. They knock on your door with a story or a deal: a roofer spots missing shingles on your roof, a paver has leftover asphalt and can give you a deal on driveway resealing. Then you can’t track them down after they’ve left you with a shoddy or incomplete job. Never agree to do business with someone you haven’t researched first. Start at bbb.org/search.

Go to ncpw.gov to find more consumer tips and free materials from government and private organizations.

Two Ways Tax Scammers Might Target You

Reposted from Federal Trade Commission.

It’s that time of year — tax time. It’s also a great time to get up to speed on tax-related scams. Here are two ways tax scammers might target you:

1. Tax identity theft
This kind of identity theft happens when someone files a fake tax return using your personal information — like your Social Security number — to get a tax refund or a job. You find out about it when you get a letter from the IRS saying:

  • more than one tax return was filed in your name, or
  • IRS records show wages from an employer you don’t know.

If you get a letter like this, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490. You can find more about tax identity theft at ftc.gov/taxidtheft and irs.gov/identitytheft.

2. IRS imposter scams
This time scammers aren’t pretending to be you — they’re posing as the IRS. They call you up saying you owe taxes, and threaten to arrest you if you don’t pay right away. They might know all or part of your Social Security number, and they can rig caller ID to make it look like the call is coming from Washington, DC – when it could be coming from anywhere. Leaving you no time to think, they tell you to put the money on a prepaid debit card and tell them the card number right away.

The real IRS won’t ask you to pay with prepaid debit cards or wire transfers, and won’t ask for a credit card number over the phone. When the IRS contacts people about unpaid taxes, they usually do it by mail.

If you have a question about your taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 or go to irs.gov. You can report IRS imposter scams to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) online or at 800-366-4484, and to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

Don’t Lose When It Comes to Buying Gameday Seahawks Tickets

Image courtesy of sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com

Have you seen the price for Seahawks playoff tickets? It’s crazy—some are going as high as $5,000 each! I don’t blame people for resorting to the online classifieds to find cheap tickets or wheeling-and-dealing with a scalper at the stadium. But I do question how often people let their guard down and throw caution to the wind.

Last year I worked with a news station on a story about fake tickets being sold to the NFC Championship game against the Niners. The station interviewed a guy who bought tickets from someone posting on Craigslist. The buyer thought he was doing everything right. He arranged to meet the man in public on game day, obtained a copy of his driver’s license and inspected the tickets before handing over several hundred dollars in cash. But when the unlucky fan went to the ticket gate, he was turned away because the tickets were fake.

Surprisingly this happens a lot every year, and most cases seem to go unreported. Even though the buyer did everything right in his mind, he still got ripped off. Not only were the tickets fake, but so was the seller’s ID.

The message here is simple. If you buy tickets from an individual or non-verified reseller, you’re rolling the dice. I mean, is it really worth the extra hundred dollars you might save on a ticket if you’re not 100% sure the tickets are real? I guess it depends on whom you ask.

I know one person who made a scalper walk into the stadium first before buying the ticket. He wanted to verify if it was the real deal. It was a gutsy move that worked—but I seriously doubt any ticket seller, legitimate or not, would actually take the time to do that. My suggestion is to stick with the basics:

  • Look for BBB’s seal when buying tickets from an online broker. Use verifiable ticket sellers and resellers that hold vendors responsible to ticket authenticity.
  • Avoid shady transactions where sellers fail to provide contact information or prefer to conduct business in private. Never wire money or fill up a prepaid debit card as a method of payment.
  • Know how an actual playoff ticket looks and feels. Steer clear of tickets printed on flimsy paper, with smeared ink and uneven margins. When in doubt, just walk away.

Sometimes our emotions get the better of us and we want to believe the deal we are seeing is legit. But I caution anyone interested in buying playoff tickets to first take a deep breath, come up with a plan, prepare to call an audible and don’t get blitzed by a scammer wanting to make a buck. Don’t be like the guy interviewed on the news last year—he ended up listening to the game on the radio on his way home from the stadium.

To see more tips on how to avoid getting ripped off during football season, check us out on Facebook and BBB’s Social Hub.

I’m a Crime Victim

On a Friday evening in March, my girlfriend and I took the dog for a walk at a local park. We stood on the bluffs over Puget Sound and watched the final sliver of sun disappear behind the Olympic Mountains. It was the perfect end to a perfect week. Until we got back to the car.

Smash & Grab
Smash & Grab

We parked on the side of the road in a quiet, wooded area and were away from the vehicle for about 30 minutes, but that’s all the time it took for someone to smash in the passenger window and grab her purse from the front seat. This is the first time that I have ever been robbed and the feeling of helplessness was extremely frustrating. But my girlfriend has a level head and immediately snapped into action; these are the steps that she took.

  1. Cancel the cards. In the half-hour it took to look up the phone numbers to cancel the credit card and two debit cards, the thief had already spent nearly one thousand dollars at an electronics chain, gas station and liquor store; but because the theft was expediently reported, she’s not liable for those charges.
  2. File a police report. As with most large cities where vehicle vandalism and break-ins—often referred to as “prowls”—are common, this entire process is automated and can be completed online in just a few minutes. The incident number is needed for any insurance claims.
  3. Place a fraud alert. Since her state-issued driver’s license was in the purse, she contacted Experian and asked for a fraud alert; a credit bureau that receives this request must contact the other two bureaus—TransUnion and Equifax—and inform them of the fraud alert. Placing a fraud alert on her name will flag any new accounts that are opened in the next 90 days. And while it’s unlikely that a “smash & grab” criminal—think bored high school kid—is interested in anything more than a quick shopping binge, it’s better to be cautious when credit is at stake.
  4. Monitor credit. She set an email reminder to check her free credit report in a few weeks at annualcreditreport.com for any unusual activity.
Broken Glass
Broken Glass

While this situation is more of an inconvenience than a life-shattering crime, it is my hope that this experience will serve as a reminder of what not to do: I can’t help but think that if her purse had been on the floor or under the seat that this would not have happened. Because I was comfortable in my home town, I let my guard down and forgot that thieves never take a day off. So remember, never leave valuables in unsecured locations. If items must be left in cars, make sure they are not in plain sight.

Better Business Bureau offers a one-stop PDF guide for protecting identities and I strongly recommend taking a few minutes to learn the available resources and understand the proper procedure for dealing with something like this; a delay of just a few minutes can really matter.

And finally, a message to the thief: Karma. That is all.

Full Disclosure: Equifax Inc is a BBB Accredited Business headquartered in Atlanta, Ga.; Experian Information Solutions Inc is a BBB Accredited Business headquartered in Costa Mesa, Calif.; TransUnion LLC is a BBB Accredited Business headquartered in Chicago, Illinois.