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If a telephone caller offers you a "free," "prepaid," or "special deal" on magazine subscriptions, listen carefully before you answer. A hurried "yes" to the caller may obligate you to years of monthly payments for magazines you may not really want or could purchase elsewhere for less. In some states, once you orally agree to receive these magazines, you may be legally obligated to pay for them. When buying magazines over the phone, you do not have the advantage or protection of first seeing the written terms of the sales agreement.

Of course, thousands of consumers buy magazine subscriptions from legitimate salespeople over the telephone every year. Yet, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), some consumers are tricked by unscrupulous salespeople into paying hundreds of dollars for multi- year subscriptions. Fraudulent sellers make presentations so slick that many consumers are unaware they have purchased magazines until they receive the written agreement. The information in this brochure may help you avoid becoming entangled in a magazine subscription contract you do not want and which is difficult to escape.

How To Recognize Deceptive Sales Techniques

Sales techniques for these magazine subscriptions vary. Sometimes, instead of an initial phone call, you may receive a postcard that mentions nothing about magazine subscriptions. The postcard may ask you to call a telephone number about a contest, prize, or sweepstakes entry. If you call, you may be told about contest prizes or drawing dates. However, you soon may find that the telephone conversation turns into a sales talk about buying magazine subscriptions.

Listed below are some other questionable sales tactics deceptive telephone salespeople use.

* They may avoid identifying themselves as magazine subscription salespeople or may fail to give you their name or that of their company. They may imply that they represent major credit card companies or magazine publishers or that their purpose in calling is something other than selling magazine subscriptions.

* They may encourage you to make purchases without giving you total costs. For example, they may offer you magazines for just a few dollars a week. This may sound like a bargain until you realize that you could be paying hundreds of dollars for subscriptions that regularly may sell for less.

* They may say you will be purchasing multiple-year subscriptions for a package of magazines, when, in fact, many of these subscriptions may be sent to you for a much shorter time.

* They may say they are "approved" or "regulated" by the federal, state, or local government; in fact, no governmental body actually approves magazine-selling operations.

What To Do If You Get a Telephone Call From a Magazine Subscription Salesperson

You should listen carefully to the initial telephone sales presentation. If you are not interested in the offer, you simply may want to reject the offer and hang up the phone. If you are interested -- but busy -- when the call comes, you might ask the caller to contact you when you can focus more carefully on the sales offer. Some sellers may ask to tape your telephone conversation with them, saying it is for your protection. In reality, they might use this recording to "prove" you agreed to buy the magazines, selected a method of payment, and understood all the terms of the agreement. Remember, your verbal agreement to buy may become an immediate legal contract in some states.

The best way to protect yourself from unscrupulous sales presentations is to be suspicious when anyone tries to sell you a "bargain" or give you something "free" over the phone. Ask questions so you will have adequate information about what is being sold and the total costs involved. If your questions are not being answered completely, dismiss the caller.

Listed below are some questions to ask and tips to follow when you receive a telephone sales presentation regarding magazines.

* Ask callers for their name, and the name, address, and phone number of the company they represent. Ask whether they are salespersons and what magazines they are selling. You may want to contact the company for verification before you place an order.

* Ask for the total yearly cost of each magazine and for the whole package. Decide if this represents a real bargain over the regular magazine subscription prices you can obtain elsewhere.

* Ask to receive a written copy of the sales terms offered over the telephone before you agree to buy anything. Then, read the sales agreement carefully and make sure you understand what you will be receiving and what it will cost.

* Do not give your credit card number over the phone unless you initiate the call or you are familiar with the company. If you give your credit card number over the phone to an unknown salesperson for "verification" or "computer purposes," that person may use it improperly to charge your account for unwanted magazine subscriptions or other purchases.

* If you initially ordered magazines in response to a telephone solicitation, you may be called again. Although you may think you are being called to find out if you are satisfied with your order, the caller may be trying to sell you additional subscriptions or to renew existing ones. Listen carefully to subscription offers and make sure you understand the terms.

* Be cautious about giving your bank account number or sending your signature to telemarketers. Fraudulent sellers sometimes say they need such identification to send you a "gift." However, they may use such a deceptive tactic only to get your bank account number and signature, and once they have both, they can debit your checking account.

How To Cancel Magazine Subscriptions Ordered by Telephone

Although there is no federal law governing cancellation of telephone agreements, certain local and state laws require sellers to provide a cancellation period for telephone sales. But once you agree to buy magazine subscriptions over the phone, you cannot simply call the company to cancel your order if you change your mind. Magazine subscription companies do not honor oral cancellations. Where cancellation notices are honored, they must be in writing and occur within a limited time period. If you want to cancel magazine subscriptions you have purchased over the telephone, you will need to take following steps.

* Watch for the arrival of your sales agreement, which may come in a plain or "junk mail" type envelope. Look for the provision in the agreement that allows you to cancel your subscription; generally it is within three days of receipt. The cancellation notice may be difficult to find. Often it is attached to an inside page of multiple copies of the sales agreement.

* Sign and return the cancellation notice to the proper address, which also may be difficult to find because several addresses may be listed. Send the cancellation by certified or registered mail to be able to provide proof of your mailing date. If you are unable to send the cancellation notice by certified mail, photocopy the signed and dated notice and keep it for your records.

* When you send the cancellation form, immediately contact your bank or credit card company to stop any unauthorized payments.

* If your contract is beyond the cancellation period and you have paid in full, the magazine company may not be required to refund your money if you want to cancel your subscription. If you fail to meet the contract terms regarding payment(s), you may receive dunning notices and calls from collection agencies, or you may be threatened with legal action and a bad credit rating.

Where You Can Go For Help

If you ordered magazine subscriptions by telephone and believe you have been victimized, notify your state Attorney General or local consumer protection office. You also may file a complaint with the FTC. Write: Correspondence Branch, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, D.C. 20580. Although the FTC does not intervene in individual disputes, the information you provide may indicate a pattern of possible law violations requiring action by the Commission. If you have been contacted about paying for magazine subscriptions you did not authorize, you may want to get the FTC brochures Fair Credit Billing and Fair Debt Collection to learn your legal rights. For a free copy of these publications, write: Public Reference, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, D.C. 20580.

Facts for Consumers from the Federal Trade Commission

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