How I Got Screwed: The National Readers’ Service Magazine Company Scam
Normally I write about Star Wars, or make lists about absurd things, or write happy (or, I guess, bitter) posts about European soccer. Not today. This is an open letter to Wesleyan University in particular, and everyone more broadly, about how I was (stupidly) scammed by a "magazine company," what I did wrong, and the steps I'm taking to combat the company's immoral, illegal practices. If you want to save yourself a lot of emotional effort, money and time, read on.
In November of 2008 I was being treated for a broken ankle: I was on serious pain medication, lying in bed trying to do work. My phone rang, and seeing that it was a number that I didn't know, I picked it up. I listened patiently to the woman on the other end who had told me that I would probably "win a car" if I gave he my credit card information and signed up to receive some (very cheap) magazines. Sounded good to me--perhaps this idiocy was due to the pain meds (I hope). Mistake 1: NEVER GIVE YOUR CREDIT CARD INFORMATION OVER THE PHONE UNLESS YOU INITIATED THE CONVERSATION.
I was roped into a "binding" (or at least I was told) contract with a magazine distribution company called the "National Readers' Service" (NRS); after I realized what I had done, I repeatedly tried to cancel my account. I was informed again and again that the NRS "pays the magazine companies in advance, so you can't cancel your account." I was mortified; I couldn't tell anyone, any of my friends because they would laugh at me (for good reason). I was being charged upwards of $60 a month, though I had initially agreed to much lower charges; I couldn't afford to pay my bills, so I began to default. Then I began receiving angry calls from the NRS; finally, in November of 2009, I agreed to "settle" my contract. I paid an exorbitant amount to the NRS for an extended period so that the harassing calls, the inflammatory mail, and the recorded messages would stop. They did not.
I only received more calls, despite the fact that my phone number is on the Do-Not-Call registry. I repeatedly asked them why they were calling, only to hear that I still had $1400 on my account, but they would "settle" with me for $1200. I stopped answering.
Today, I received a letter from a debt collection agency. My "account" has been transferred from the NRS to the debt collection agency, and the only way I can get it back to the NRS (to pay more money) to settle it, is if I pay the debt agency $300.
So I'm drawing the line. This has to be illegal, right? Well, it is, and here's my letter to the NRS, the CT Attorney General, the Kansas Attorney General (they're based there), the debt collection agency, the Better Business Bureau, and the Consumer Protection Agency that outlines my claims and my case:
National Readers' Service
PO Box 3863
Shawnee Mission, Kansas
To Whom It May Concern:
Last year, while I was on substantial pain medication for a broken ankle, I agreed to a telemarketer’s offer for magazines at a substantial discount; I made various payments to the group called the “National Readers Service” starting in November of 2008, and continuously made payments even when the magazines did not come--they withdrew money from my account despite my repeated attempts to cancel my account. I recall that in November of 2009 I had a conversation with an agent, who referred to himself as a member of the NRS, about buying out my contract. I agreed to pay $XXXX for three months to cancel the account; I can produce my bank statements in court to prove that this money was withdrawn from my account. The first withdrawal occurred on December 9, 2009, the second on January 11, 2010, and the final one on February 9, 2010. All of these are marked under the label “CHECKCARD 0208 MAGAZINES 8003048567 8003048567 KS 24559300039900010248537,” (bolds mine) with the merchant category as “Mail Order/Telephone Order Providers.”
Since this time, I have repeatedly received harassing, twice-daily phone calls from NRS agents, mail informing me that I owe $1400, and have now been transferred to a debt collection agency, who refuse to transfer me back to the NRS unless I pay a fee (I recollect, because they refused to let me record our conversation) of around $300. They offered me a “one-time” settlement fee of $1200. I refused.
I am writing this to the NRS and NRS affiliates as set out in State of Kansas v. Publishers Renewal Service CO. d/b/a National Readers Service a/k/a Readers Source (case ’09 CV11613, suit filed Dec. 30, 2009) to insist that my account be removed from your system. Unless my account is removed within two weeks and the harassing phone calls are stopped, I will send a copy of this message to the Connecticut division of the Better Business Bureau, the Connecticut Attorney General’s Office, the Kansas division of the BBB, the Kansas Attorney General’s Office, and the Consumer Protection Agencies based in Kansas and Connecticut. I also run a website that collects over 6000 unique hits a day from college students around the country, and will publish a detailed account of this scam there.
According to the lawsuit I previously mentioned, “39. Upon information and belief, if a consumer agrees to purchase a magazine subscription, defendants tell consumers they must cancel within three (3) days of the initial transaction; 40. Upon information and belief, consumers may actually cancel their subscriptions at any time; 41. Upon information and belief, Defendants fail to inform consumers that they may cancel their subscriptions at any time.” According to this suit, I have the right to cancel my subscription at any time, despite having been repeatedly told that I could not; also, according to this suit, the “collection agency” I was referred to has earned over $60,000 from cases like mine. According to this suit, the NRS is liable for “Deceptive Acts or Practices,” in accord with K.S.A. 50-626(b)(3) which prohibits the NRS from “willfully conceal(ing), suppress(ing) or omit(ting) a material fact in their transactions with consumers, specifically that consumers could cancel their order at any time.” (State of Kansas v. Publishers Renewal Service CO, Count II, section 58-59).
The NRS is especially liable for “Unconscionable Acts or Practices,” (K.S.A 50-627(a))--according to Count V, “[Defendants] continue to attempt to collect payment from consumers, even after consumers express a desire to cancel their subscriptions or cease making payments on their accounts, often referring such accounts to independent collection agencies.”
What the NRS has done to me over the course of the last year is not only amoral in a vague sense: it is illegal, in violation of the Kansas Consumer Protection Act (pursuant to K.S.A. 50-632(a)(1)), which prohibits deceptive and unconscionable acts.
If my account is not removed from the NRS, from the collection agency my account is now being held in, and from both electronic systems more generally; and if either of these two agencies call my telephone number ever again (which is on the National Do-Not-Call registry); I will take legal action against the NRS, the collection agency, and the NRS CEO Russell J. Rahm personally.
I hope this can be resolved without resorting to legal action.
Gabriel Wofford Lezra
45 Wyllys Ave
So what can we learn from my idiocy?
- Never give out your credit card number over the phone unless you initiated the conversation.
- Do not trust any service that will not tell you who they are, what they do, and where they are based. (I had to do extensive research to find all of this out about the NRS).
- Insist that anyone who calls you tell you who they are, what they want, and why they are calling.
- Remember that under most state constitutions (and, I believe, under national law) you have the right to (a) cancel your subscriptions at any time; (b) protect yourself from companies that are "unwilling" to give you information; and (c) protect yourself from companies that engage in "unconscionable acts or practices." Bring this up, and especially State of Kansas v. Publishers Renewal Service CO, if you're ever in my situation.
So anyways, all of this being said, just don't pick up the phone for 1-800 numbers. It will save you a lot of fucking time, and a LOT of fucking money.