Collection notice or ploy to get me to renew subscription?
July 18, 2013 9:17 PM   Subscribe

Is this an actual collections notice or just an aggressively worded ploy to get me to renew my magazine subscription?

I got something in the mail today that confused me. For a couple of years I have subscribed to [monthly magazine] (which one is not important--I don't think...?). For various reasons, I decided a few months ago that when I had the option to renew I wouldn't, so when I've gotten things in the mail from [magazine] I just tossed them. I just happened to open one today and it had the magazine logo, "Credit & Collections Department" at the top, and "FINAL NOTICE" below that. The body said:

Dear [me],
We extended you the privilege of paying later for your subscription. By entering into this agreement we anticipated that you would remit payment when billed. The balance outstanding is now several months past due.

We have sent you numerous bills. We must now insist that you send us your payment immediately.

This will be your final opportunity to resume service on your subscription.

Yours Truly,
[magazine] Customer Service

The amount they are asking for is under $20, so I could just say "Whatever" and pay it. HOWEVER, I have a feeling something is amiss and want to make sure I'm not getting suckered. First, I don't do the "Give me the product now and bill me later" thing--I just don't put off paying tomorrow what I could pay today, so I am 90% sure I would not have signed up for this arrangement. Second, that last sentence is throwing me off: This will be your final opportunity to resume service on your subscription--it's this that makes me question whether this is an actual collections notice and not just an aggressively worded ploy to get me to renew my subscription... Add to that the fact that nowhere in this correspondence is information about what will happen if I don't pay, and more importantly, there is no contact information whatsoever (other than a a PO Box address on the return envelope). Don't legit collections want you to be able to easily get in touch with them to sort a matter like this out? Obviously that would have been my first move but I don't even know where to take this!

I'm in the process of combing through past bank statements but I thought I'd ask to see if anyone has seen something like this--for all I know this could just be a "thing" the dying print magazine industry is doing to keep subscriptions up (which seems incredibly sketchy but weirder things have happened).
posted by lovableiago to Law & Government (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This is weird. I'd give the magazine a call, once you have your billing history sorted, just in case. Surely there's a number for customer service or some other corporate contact number on their website. You'll probably have to transfer two or three times and listen to an irritating sales pitch if it is a tactic, but you can boredly/politely tell them to eff off and get the information you need straight from the company. Better than than having a $19.95 charge go to collections and ding your credit.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 9:39 PM on July 18, 2013

I assume the magazine has a customer service available via phone. I'd call and ask about the status of your account.
posted by jenny76 at 9:39 PM on July 18, 2013

Throw it in the trash.
posted by empath at 9:40 PM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'd start by going into your bank account and finding where you originally paid for this.
posted by Sara C. at 9:40 PM on July 18, 2013

Best answer: If you search for it on google there are lots of people complaining about it. They've been doing it for years.

It's just to scare old people into coughing up money. It's pretty contemptible.
posted by empath at 9:45 PM on July 18, 2013 [11 favorites]

You unsubscribed a few months ago, from a monthly magazine- have you been getting the magazine? Because if you haven't, then I'd say it's definitely just a ploy to get you to sign up again.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:45 PM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've had something similar happen with magazine subscriptions. They try all sorts of things to get you to renew and they've probably just found that this is "effective." If you're really worried, just give the magazine's subscription department (you should be able to find it on the website) a call.
posted by lunasol at 9:46 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

have you been getting the magazine? Because if you haven't, then I'd say it's definitely just a ploy to get you to sign up again.

Hell, I've had magazines continue to send me issues and then try to charge me for them. So even if you have been getting it, that doesn't mean you have to pay them. You only have to pay if you subscribe.
posted by lunasol at 9:47 PM on July 18, 2013

Mod note: A couple of comments deleted; the OP is free to name the magazine if they wish, but please don't comment just to ask them to do that.
posted by taz (staff) at 10:32 PM on July 18, 2013

Best answer: It doesn't matter if they sent them to you or not. If you didn't order them, it's illegal for them to send merchandise or a bill. You don't have to pay and can report them to the US Postal Inspection Service

From their website:

You, the consumer, may only legally be sent two types of merchandise through the mail without your consent or agreement:

Free samples which are clearly and conspicuously marked as such.
Merchandise mailed by a charitable organization that is soliciting contributions.

And in these two cases, you can consider the merchandise a gift if you wish. In all other situations, it is illegal to send merchandise to someone, unless that person has previously ordered or requested it.

These rules are codified in Title 39, United States Code, Section 3009. That section of the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 incorporates these protections for American consumers and makes the mailing of unordered merchandise unfair methods of competition and unfair trade practices under the law.

If you do not wish to pay for unsolicited merchandise or make a donation to a charity sending such an item, you may do one of three things (in each case, by law, you have no obligation to the sender):

If you have not opened the package, you may mark it "Return to Sender," and the Postal Service will return it with no additional postage charged to you.
If you open the package and don't like what you find, you may throw it away.
If you open the package and like what you find, you may keep it for free. In this instance, "finders-keepers" applies unconditionally.
Furthermore, it is illegal for a company that sends you unordered merchandise to follow the mailing with a bill or dunning communication.

If you are aware of violations of the federal law prohibiting the mailing of unordered merchandise, or if you have personally had difficulty with such items--especially if you are sent statements demanding payment for the merchandise--you should contact you local postmaster or the nearest Postal Inspector.
posted by 1066 at 11:34 PM on July 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Note what they're saying is that paying will "resume service", not that paying will prevent you from getting sued or anything like that. I think that's a pretty good indication. I've had several magazines send me renewal notices that look like invoices for something I already signed up for--Marie Claire was the most recent--and it always puts them on my list of 'things never to sign up for again'.
posted by Sequence at 12:53 AM on July 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

Ignore it.

Or send back a letter to their PO box saying that for their convenience you make an obligatory handling charge of $25 dollars per item and if they want their letter processed you look forward to early settlement of the outstanding balance.
posted by Segundus at 4:08 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've replied to this kind of notice by writing "THIS WAS CANCELED. STOP SENDING NOTICES" on the invoice and returning it in the envelope.

Never hits credit report, they never re-charge the credit card. It's a ploy to get you to re-up on the magazine.
posted by jerseygirl at 7:23 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I understand the law about unsolicited merchandise, but are magazines a bit different, since you did agree to the first year? When you sign up for a year subscription, is it implied that you are agreeing to exactly one year and no more? Or is it implied that the magazines will continue past that year unless you actually call/write at the end of that year to physically CANCEL the subscription? Do all magazines behave one way vs the other, or is each company's policy different?

I am thinking that any type of annual subscription that you agree to (Massage Envy, Pencil of the Month Club, etc) would have these questions about how the end of the contract is specified. It may be true that you DID agree to continue receiving the magazine past a year and you DO own them money, but it could also be true that it's just aggressive sales. And who still has the little card from last year when you signed up for a magazine?
posted by CathyG at 7:27 AM on July 19, 2013

Best answer: I'm a serials librarian. I manage hundreds of magazine subscriptions for my library.

I occasionally cancel subscriptions by letting them "lapse" (I stop paying, they stop sending). I usually do this with companies that make it very hard for me to talk to their employees. Occasionally, I have gotten notices similar to the one you got. Once it was so convincing that I really thought it was a bill until I looked very closely. I never pay the companies when I get these notices, because I do not want their magazine anymore.

I'm not going to tell you with 100% certainty that this is or isn't a collections notice; I have much less at stake than you do, in that these are library subscriptions I work with, not tied to my personal finances. But I will tell you that this is common, and it's almost certainly just an attempt to get you to re-subscribe.

I will also mention that I was told by a subscription agent once that there is some law that requires magazine subscriptions to be paid up front, that they won't send them until after you've paid for them, but I did a quick search and I'm not finding anything like that, so I don't know if it's true or not. If it is true, then this would definitely be nothing other than a money-grab.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:07 AM on July 19, 2013

Yeah it's just a tactic that some magazines use to get you to renew. I've let subscriptions lapse this way and ignored similar notices and nothing bad ever happened to my credit because of it.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:01 AM on July 19, 2013

(Be nice to your mail carrier, don't include the brick. Just send it back with "cancelled". Or ignore it.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 10:04 AM on July 19, 2013

If you can find the last magazine you got, on the paper sticker you should be able to find a date - that is the date that your subscription is paid through. If you haven't been "comped" issues you haven't paid for yet, you're fine. For example, I get In Style. I get letters from them that seem like my subscription is about to expire, FINAL NOTICE, shit like that. But my sticker says "Dec 2013" on it. I'm paid through then.
posted by peep at 10:06 AM on July 19, 2013

This is just high pressure tactics to get you to renew your subscription. Ignore. Dont call. I've gotten several like this, ivnored all of them and never had a problem.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 11:06 AM on July 19, 2013

Saveur tried a number of bullying and deceitful tactics on us after we tried a "free issue" and decided not to subscribe, up to and including sending fake notices from a "collection agency," IIRC. We reported them to the Better Business Bureau, and I wound up leaving a few messages for their subscriptions manager at Condé Nast. Never got a call back, but the weird, abusive letters stopped.
posted by Shepherd at 12:59 PM on July 19, 2013

I was reading Harper's on my tablet earlier and they had a notice on their letters page saying that a company 'not authorised to sell subscriptions' was contacting some readers. It clearly happens. (I subscribe to print magazines via direct debit, so I don't have first-hand experience.)
posted by mippy at 2:48 PM on July 19, 2013

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