Monday, March 19, 2007

Hard to Defraud: Subscription to destruction

Last week, for the first time ever, I donned the cape of crusading consumer and filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau because I believe that just because meth is illegal doesn’t mean that those who sell it shouldn’t be held to the same standards of business ethics that more licit concerns must abide by.

Actually, it wasn’t a drug deal gone bad that prompted me to go all Clark Howard*, it was my poorly thought-out decision to try and procure magazines through a cut-rate, Web-based subscription service. And I thought that, while the good folks at the BBB are hot on the case, I’d turn up the heat even further by publicly upbraiding, in front of the tens of readers who visit BFS, the dastardly bastards who made off with my $24.79: halfpricedmags.com (just typing their name causes the venom to build in my throat.)

First off, let me explain how I came to be seduced by the siren of greatly discounted magazine subscriptions despite the fact that I am naturally skeptical of deals too “super” to believe.

I love to read. Throughout the day, whenever I have even a minute or two of down time, I quickly search for something to read. Since the newspaper is usually exhausted by breakfast’s end and my current book is relegated to the night stand for nocturnal enjoyment, I’ve found magazines to be indispensable for feeding my reading jones throughout the day.**

Last summer I gradually let most of my subscriptions expire. Some I had grown tired of and others forced my hand with their high renewal fees. And so it was that I found myself one day pitifully flipping through one of my wife’s copies of Good Housekeeping, trying in vain to find a story that wasn’t about the triumph of the human spirit, or weight loss. It’s clear to me now that I was in the full throes of withdrawal and, in my desperation, I succumbed to the call of a Web site offering one full-year of the New Yorker for $6.84, that’s 47 issues at a mere fraction of the newsstand price. It was such an enticing deal that I also signed-up for Men’s Health and a few magazines for my wife and kids.

I was informed at checkout that it would be 8-10 weeks before the magazines would arrive; a devastating lag time for a rag junkie, but the penny pincher in me convinced me that I could hold out. That was back on September 2, of last year. Here we are now, halfway through March, and I’ve yet to receive a single issue of any of the magazines.

I contacted them numerous times through their online order inquiry application and through email. Most of my pleas for satisfaction went unheeded. The one response I did receive told me that the order was delayed and it would be another six weeks. When that proved to be an empty promise, I continued to email, but my pleadings fell on absent ears. I became convinced that they had me pegged for a patsy who would continue to politely inquire about my order without ever doing anything about it. Little did they know that they would push me to the tipping point.

After one more inquiry went unanswered, I stormed over to the BBB’s Web site to lodge my complaint. With a steely intensity that was reminiscent of Charles Bronson at his most vengeful, I undauntedly filled out their online complaint form. After reviewing my entry for accuracy, I coldly took aim on the send button. With my finger hovering just over the mouse, I took a moment to imagine the executives of halfpricedmags.com, sitting around an oak-paneled conference room and laughing through their expensive cigars, cigars partially financed by my ill-gotten $24.79. The anger rose up inside me and I slammed my finger down on the mouse.*** The blast from my right-click caused my desk chair to recoil a good twenty feet.

As I pushed myself back towards the desk and the smoke cleared from the computer screen, a calming sensation came over me. I realized that I had just single-handedly brought down their entire operation. Sure, maybe some innocent IT people will lose their jobs as a result, but collateral damage is to be expected when you’re dead-set on justice.

I was na├»ve in thinking that I could ever get the New Yorker for 14.5 cents an issue. But halfpricedmags.com was stupid in thinking that I was just another deep-pocketed sophisticate who likes obscure comics that provide “commentary on contemporary mores.”**** Now that they’ve felt the heat from my wrath they’ll probably embark on some safer venture, like hijacking cocaine shipments being smuggle by murderous Peruvian drug cartels.

Oh yeah, one more thing, don’t buy magazines at halfpricedmags.com. The final twist of the sword.



*I thought of using Ralph Nader here, but today he is less known as a consumer advocate than as a third-party disruptor. Clark Howard, if you don’t know, hosts a nationally syndicated consumer affairs show on WMAY. The guy has make a mint from being a tightwad and whistleblower, and his show is quite entertaining, in an informative kind of way.

** Magazines are also great for shoring up any deficiencies you might have on popular topics of conversation. For example, my ability to converse somewhat intelligently on sports isn’t the result of actually watching events as they unfold live, but rather from my periodic perusals of Sports Illustrated (along with my daily digestion of the sports page.) As a result, I can speak quite confidently and with reasonable authority when saying that SIU-Carbondale courted a better basketball team than our flagship U of I team this year, and this despite the fact that I didn’t witness a dribble of action in either’s postseason games.

***I was going to say something cool before I shot off my complaint but I didn’t want to appear trite.

****A BFS t-shirt to the first person who can name the actor who recited this line.

19 comments:

John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt said...

While we are airing our grievances over insidious monopolies of conglomerates of piles of feces I too have one.

Don't ever buy anything from RCA. We purchased our Son #1 an MP3 player several years ago and within one year it malfunctioned. We sent it in and was surprised that they sent back a new one. So far so good.

Last Christmas we bought Son #2 an RCA MP3 player and it did not work properly. We sent it back for replacement. After an extended period of time I contacted them by phone - by way of India I suppose - to which they responded that they "just received it." Whatever! We gave it several more weeks with no action and again tried to contact them by phone. This time they were rude and not very helpful. Not to mention it took much gumshoe work just to track down a phone number to contact them with. I have a little heartbroken seven year old asking nearly daily about his MP3 player and all the pirated, ooops I mean legal, songs he wants to put on it.

I think RCA is on their last legs anyways so I won't sic Dan on them just yet, but it is nice to know I have him in my holster should I need him.

Iggy said...

A good online resource to always use for things like this - other than the one you have just used - your own site. Is Ed Foster's Gripelog. I have this site listed on my News Feeds powered by RSS page. I've seen some good results happen when that site gets involved. Not that they can pull off miracles. But in the past they have done well in helping consumers out.

http://www.gripe2ed.com/

nancy said...

Dan

I have found that one of the best magazine subscription deals ever was that of YOUR DAUGHTER'S SCHOOL FUNDRAISER!!!!I think I subscribed or resubscribed to two zines through your little uber-motivated version of Tracey Flick. I received the orders on time and will be happy to contribute again next year, should her school continue the fundraiser.

Your "recoil" at sending your email had me in stitches. Good stuff there.

Marie said...

Dan, three things.

1. Whenever I'm considering buying something from an online merchant with whom I have previously not done business, I always put its name in Google with the word "scam" or "fraud" to see if anything pops up.

2. You might try getting a refund through the credit card company you used to make the purchase.

3. I believe the actor was Dean Martin, who actually sung, rather than recited, those words. It went like, "When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's acommentaryoncontemporarymores." Am I right?

Dave H said...

Dan, a lot of info on your company on a site called ripoffreport.com. I got stiffed on some hardwood flooring when I was building my house and learned alot about the company from this site. Long story short, I got my money back through a debit card reversal through the bank that not too many people know you can do. Caveat Emptor!

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

Jingleheimer Schmidt,

Thanks for the heads-up on the RCA players. I'm an iPod guy myself and have been pleased with it so far.

Iggy,

I know from reading your blog that you've tackled these type of issues before. Thanks for the tip on Griplog.

Nancy,

We've already had the magazine fundraiser this past fall, but don't worry, we won't forget to ask you next year now that we know you really wanted the magazines and weren't just being supportive of Tracy's massive ambition (I caught the Election reference.)

Marie,

Thanks for the advice. As to you answer in point 3, that is very funny but unfortunately incorrect.

Dave,

I used a credit card so I suppose I should look into getting a charge back. But right now, I'm confident that the combination of my BBB complaint and this blog post will drive halfpricedmags into bankruptcy and perhaps I can buy them out on the cheap and then have all the magazines I desire.

Thanks for commenting,
Dan

Anonymous said...

I buy magazines all the time off of Ebay. Just check out their feedback score before you do. I have not paid more than $5 for a subscription in a long time. Never had a problem.

Rock-Robster said...

Is it . . . WOODY ALLEN???

Rock-Robster said...

It was said by Paul Benedict (who was also the neighbor, Bentley, on "The Jeffersons") in Seinfeld. . .

nancy said...

DOH!!!! Curses to you, Rock Robster.

And kudos to you, Dan, for the subtle New Yorker cross reference.

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

Anon,

Thanks for the eBay tip. The offers for the New Yorker aren’t that great, but there are some other good deals.

Robster,

Woody Allen is incorrect.

Robster,

Paul Benedict is correct.

Nancy,

Don’t sweat it. I suspect that Robster violated the No Google Rule in arriving at the correct answer. The awarding of the BFS shirt is on hold pending an investigation into Robster’s actual familiarity with the career of Mr. Benedict.

Thanks for commenting,
Dan

rock-robster said...

Dan

How dare you? You doubt my familiarity with Paul "I'm just as God made me" Benedict?

I'll gladly relinquish ownership of my rightfully begotten BFS t-shirt, if YOU can identify that classic Bendedict line.

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

Benedict's character in Spinal Tap said that line in response to being called a twisted old fruit.

Rock-Robster said...

I suspect that BFS violated the No Google Rule in arriving at the correct answer. The de-awarding of the BFS shirt is on hold pending an investigation into BFS’s actual familiarity with the career of Mr. Benedict.

J.J.J.S. said...

I firmly believe Dan knew the "Spinal Tap" reference without relying on Google as I did too. There is very little that Dan and I do not know about "Tap."

With that in mind, it is difficult to deny Rock his just desserts as Dan has no proof of said "cheating."

And while we are on the topic of products being offered to consumers and not delivered upon, I think a BBB investigation into BFS by a BRP (Blue-Ribbon panel) may be in order.

Rock-Robster said...

j.j.j.s-

I have to admit that I knew Danny would knock that softball Tap question right out of the park . . . I guess I’m guilty of setting him up so I could parrot his NGR response back at him.

And I think more Tap is just what this blog needs! (I actually had the pleasure of seeing them perform live at the Riv in Chicago during the “Break Like the Wind” tour!)

J.J.J.S. said...

well then;

"so say all of us, Tap into America!"

Anonymous said...

This blog is making me thirsty!

UMRBlog said...

Rules of Magazine Subscription:

1. Never Buy from a clearinghouse or "Service"--School Sponsored from a school you know is OK, it's usually been vetted;

2. Always pay by check and mail it with the subscription--don't wait for the little bill to be returned to you (It's a long story, trust me on this one.)

3. Never, ever, under any circumstances pay for a magazine with a credit card. That subscription will be harder to get rid of than genital herpes and 4,000 Nigerian and Montenegran computers will have your credit card information before breakfast.

4. Never, ever, under any circumstances accept a "free" three month trial subscription as a "gift" when you're ordering something else (Like Golf Mags when you order a new Driver or Fitness Mags when you order crosstrainers). The vendor already has your credit card. You will forget to cancel your subscription. Your credit card will be billed. The "herpes" rule applies to trying to get out of that subscription-for-life. The publisher will upsell you (or "upgift" you) to other mags, which will be herpetically extended. In this case 6,000 Ghanians with computers and 3,000 crooked Romanians will be unencoding your password because they already have your bank and number. First one in gets all that's left of your line of credit. ETA: 20 minutes. They'll be in before your bedtime.

6. Always remember that one of the more difficult things to match up with a purloined credit card number is a surface mail address. But, what does the vendor need to fulfill your mag subscription? Ah, that's right, a surface mail address.

7. If you're hopelessly confused by too many rules, refer to Rule 3 and you can't go too far wrong.

Sorry for your pain. Getting stiffed is bad but it beats the hell out of "subscriptions for life" and identity theft.