Subscription Fraud Targeted More Than 40 Publishers, Say Authorities

You were receiving your share of subscription offers by mail long before you entered the publishing game yourself — mail-outs urging you to renew your magazine subscription at a great low rate before it expires, or inviting you to subscribe for the first time. They’ve always seemed innocent enough, and your own publication’s circulation has probably benefited from them over the years. But these notices aren’t always what they seem. In fact, sometimes they’re downright criminal.

A Shocking Scam

That’s what the charges against Orbital Publishing Group allege. Attorney general’s offices in several states have filed suit against the group, accusing it of allegedly distributing fraudulent subscription mailers in the name of 44 different publications. The Oregon-based group, in cahoots with several other related companies, allegedly bilked subscribers out of their money in several different ways. Sometimes it would renew subscriptions that weren’t yet expired; at other times, it charged grossly inflated fees, sent publications purchased at the normal retail price, and pocketed the difference. Some readers never received the publications they ordered at all. Those who discovered that they’d been scammed generally couldn’t get any kind of help through the group’s customer service system. Perhaps most despicable of all is the indication that elderly readers, many living on fixed incomes, made up the majority of the victims.

The Bigger Picture

If the charges prove true then this situation is bad news indeed — not just for the innocent victims of Orbital’s antics, but also for the publications they pretended to represent. While publishers obviously have no control over (or culpability in) fraudulent third-party subscription services, their publications’ names have nevertheless been associated in victims’ minds with wrongdoing and bad personal experiences. It’s completely understandable that a subscriber scammed out of hundreds of dollars might have a knee-jerk reaction against the magazine or trade publication in question. On a broader canvas, these kinds of headlines are bad for the publishing industry in general. After all, if people can be conned by Orbital, who’s to say how many other unscrupulous organizations are pulling the same stunt with other publications?

Raising Reader Awareness

So what’s the answer? The only thing you can really do to protect your readers against this kind of scam is to warn them yourself, via your own pages and/or digital presence. You might include a warning on the subscription card inserts instructing readers to use this response piece (or your online order page) exclusively. You can also clearly identify legitimate vendors of your subscription service by name, urging readers to send money only to these recognized parties. As an additional service, you may wish to list the publications involved, advising readers to renew their subscriptions to these publications only from the source. Last but not least, listen closely to your subscribers’ complaints — they might just help you save your own brand from exploitation.

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