Saveur subscription scam savvy?
February 3, 2010 8:31 AM   Subscribe

A free trial magazine offer has turned into collection agency threats. Is this something I need to worry about, and what do I do about it?

In short: my wife, using a portmanteau of our two names in a fit of whimsy, sent away for a free trial issue of Saveur about a year ago; three months later, it came, we read, and sent them a letter declining the subscription. Since then, we've received an escalating series of letters from a "Connie Cotner" basically threatening us with a collection agency if we do not subscribe, the latest of which arrived last week.

We're replied to these letters on a number of occasions, stating that (a) a free trial issue is not an obligation to subscribe, (b) we've never received a "subscription" issue of the magazine beyond the free trial issue, (c) we have informed them, repeatedly, that we are not interested in a subscription, and (d) this is pretty shitty marketing.

The letters, however, keep coming; yesterday, I got a FINAL NOTICE letter stating that the account WILL be turned over to a collection agency, which WILL hurt my credit score.

Complicating factors: Saveur magazine and Connie Cotner are in Florida; we're in Canada. The trial issue (and subsequent letters) are for a "Jane Smith," where Jane is my wife's first name and Smith is my last name, but no "Jane Smith" actually exists.

There's no way to contact Saveur magazine by telephone, and Connie Cotner, as far as I can tell, works for some sort of parent company and doesn't have any direct connection to the magazine other than being some sort of subscription thug. Base-level Internet detective work (LinkedIn) has given me her company name, and via that a phone number which I assume I could call, but I'm at a bit of a loss as to what to say, other than "go away."

I'm pretty sure that I don't really have to worry about my credit score based on a $30 "debt" for a product I never agreed to purchase, levied across the border against somebody that does not exist. I'm not losing sleep over the practical aspects of this. But the ethical elements are really burning my nerve endings raw, especially since I work in marketing and this gives me an acute insight into why a lot of people hate my profession.
posted by Shepherd to Law & Government (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
File your complaint with the Better Business Bureau. Is this the company? I'm pretty sure anything being contested by the BBB doesn't get recorded on credit reports until they've deemed you to be in the wrong (but don't quote me on that). At the very least, it gives you some time and creates a paper trail.
posted by phunniemee at 8:36 AM on February 3, 2010

There's no way to contact Saveur magazine by telephone

Maybe not, but Saveur's Parent company seems to be Bonniercorp, which lists its phone and fax numbers quite publicly.
posted by jon1270 at 8:42 AM on February 3, 2010

Best answer: I'm pretty sure anything being contested by the BBB doesn't get recorded on credit reports until they've deemed you to be in the wrong

I'm pretty sure that this has zero basis in fact.

From your description it sounds like the company may be engaging in deceptive trade practices. Skip the toothless Better Business Bureau (which is run by businesses for businesses) and send a written complaint to the Florida attorney general.
posted by grouse at 8:44 AM on February 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

Also, the US has strong laws about postal fraud that cover pretty much anything sent by mail. Perhaps Canada does as well?
posted by anastasiav at 9:01 AM on February 3, 2010

Here's the BBB listing for Bonnier. They have had several complaints lodged against them already. Do with that what you will.
posted by phunniemee at 9:12 AM on February 3, 2010

Best answer: You can contact editorial via this:

It might be a way to get someone involved who might actually be interested in not having this turn into a public relations problem.

You could pretty much just give them this URL.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:18 AM on February 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Email You will have more success dealing with the Florida office than with the editorial staff in New York.
posted by Eater at 9:40 AM on February 3, 2010

My dog built a CD collection in the early 90s by joining BMG and other music clubs, and he got lots of these letters, too, despite his not having a social security number.

Without your or your wife's real name and SSN, there's really no way Saveur can actually ding your credit -- these are just empty threats, classic bill collector stuff. Next time, I'd just call their bluff and say as soon as you see their debt on your credit report, you'll pay the bill.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 9:44 AM on February 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The Nation magazine did this to me, which was kind of shocking given the
nature of the publication. I tried to get someone at the magazine interetsted
in their deception business practices, but of course they were not interested.

Nothing did show up on my credit report though.

I still get emails from them every month begging me to donate money to their
magazine. (Not even selling subscriptions anymore, just begging for donations)
Sometimes they also want me to go on a cruise with them.

So many magazines are following similar tactics.
posted by digividal at 10:17 AM on February 3, 2010

This happened to my dog! She never heard back from them after the final notice.

Really, what more can you do? Once you tell them you didn't ask for it and didn't even receive it, I think you're done.

If what you want is to make a point about the marketing aspect of it, track down an executive-level contact at the magazine and let them know.

(If it makes you feel any better, I've never thought of this type of thing as marketing and I wouldn't make that association.)
posted by KAS at 10:46 AM on February 3, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you for the reassurances and strategies to date. I've sent a strongly worded* e-mail to Cotner directly, and filed with the Central Florida BBB. A letter will be sent to the Florida AG's office tomorrow, copied to Cotner and to Bruce Miller, Vice-President of Consumer Marketing at Bonnier Corporation.

The confirmation that this does happen to other people is also kind of reassuring, if also distressing.

*part of what frustrates me is that I'm aware of how much a strongly-worded e-mail is worth in today's world, and I'm fairly sure that this is done because it does work, and lots of people get cowed into submission by the threatening letters. I know I can get out of this (and it doesn't even matter much if I don't), but it'd be nice to figure out a way to actually get these companies to change the practices.
posted by Shepherd at 11:16 AM on February 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just curious, Shepherd, but how did you sign the letter? With "Jane Smith", or with one of your real names?
posted by Pomo at 6:04 PM on February 3, 2010

Response by poster: Real name (mine), real return address. I'm not too concerned about the name issue, as my wife is American and likes the convention of using my last name as her last name, even though that's not what appears on her driver's license. That's not common up here in Quebec (legally, there's no name-change involved with marriage; you can change it, but using the same mechanisms you'd use to change your name to anything else), but pretty much the norm where she comes from (southern U.S.).
posted by Shepherd at 2:46 AM on February 4, 2010

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