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Avoiding the Nation’s Silent Scam

Last update on: Apr 21 2016

About the middle of last year we became aware of a scam that’s been stealing money from Americans for a number of years. Law enforcement at different levels apparently has been aware of it for some time but has been unable or unwilling to do anything about it. The amounts stolen from each person are small; it takes a lot of work to investigate a multi-state fraud; and there are sexier crimes to pursue. Plus, many people don’t even know they were scammed.

The result is we have to protect ourselves from this scam.

The con generally works like this. The crooks fraudulently obtain the mailing lists of publications or membership associations. Then, they mail false renewal notices to everyone on the lists. The crooks claim to be an “independent subscription agent” that contracts with publishers, publishers’ clearinghouses, or other organizations to handle the renewal notices and collect the payments. They use names such as Associated Publishers Network and United Pubex. An alternative fraud we became aware of recently, apparently by the same people, is to tell someone that their subscription is being switched to a different publication and they should call the subscription agent if that isn’t satisfactory.

The fact is, there are no contracts with the publishers or associations or with any legitimate middle entity that has legitimate contracts. The crooks aren’t authorized to issue or collect renewals on behalf of anyone and don’t account to anyone. They’ve simply been pocketing the money they collect. (In many cases, their renewal notices charge higher prices than the publishers and associations do for real renewals) They might also be using the credit card and banking information to commit identity fraud.

We began investigating this scam last summer. We learned that the group is headquartered in Bend, Oregon. It uses as a mailing address 850 S. Boulder HWY #355, Henderson, NV 89015, which is a UPS Store. Do a search on the web of this address or any of the business names the crooks use and you’ll find pages with full descriptions of the con going back several years. If you call the toll-free number listed on the fake renewal notices and manage to talk to someone you’ll receive double talk about how they work with publishers’ clearinghouses and others to help publishers but don’t contract directly with the publishers.

The scam focused on the largest publishers for years but more recently obtained the mailing lists of smaller publishers. You can find descriptions of the con and what to do about it on the subscribers’ web sites of The Wall Street Journal as well as Retirement Watch.

You should know that very few publishers use a publishers’ clearinghouse or other outside service to handle their renewals. When renewals are contracted to an outside entity, the outside firm provides only services. The renewal notices still are sent in the name of the publication and payments are made in the name of the publication, not payable to an outside service as in this con. In a legitimate situation, the renewal payments are directed to an address or phone number you can find listed in the publication.

At Retirement Watch we don’t use an outside agency for our renewals. All renewal notices are in our name and use the same address and phone number as in the newsletter and on the web site. All payments are to us.

If you receive a questionable-looking renewal notice or other communication that purports to be from or on behalf of a publication or association, you should contact the publisher or association directly using contact information in the regular publication, not in the suspicious mailing. Ask when your membership expires, what the renewal rate is, and how payment can be submitted.

Anyone who was victimized by the crooks and paid by credit card should contact their credit card issuer and ask about a chargeback. If you sent a check recently you might be able to stop payment. Otherwise you should send a refund request to the place where you made the payment.

We and other publishers have been in contact with law enforcement, and you should be, too. Report any fraud to the Attorney General of Oregon (503-378-4400 or 1162 Court St. NE, Salem, OR 97301) and the United States Postal Service Fraud Complaint Center at 800-372-8347 or http://postalinspectors.uspis.gov. You can file a com-plaint online at https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/forms/-MailFraudComplaint.aspx. (Ignore the hyphen.) You also might want to contact your state attorney general.

I was interested in the role and policies of UPS Stores, so I contacted the head of UPS (D. Scott Davis, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, UPS World Headquarters, 55 Glenlake Parkway NE, Atlanta, GA 30328). I did not receive a satisfactory reply.

A handy web site for reporting this or any other fraud is: http://www.stopfraud.gov/report.html.

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