Nova Scotia

A cold call and a $843 bill for magazines this Nova Scotia woman doesn't want

A Florida-based magazine subscription company has racked up a slew of complaints from customers who say they have faced high-pressure calls, unauthorized charges and have been unable to cancel subscriptions.

Florida-based magazine subscription company has faced more than 140 complaints through Better Business Bureau

Theresa Gillis looks at some of the seven magazines she's receiving from a Florida-based company that has billed her $843. (CBC)

A Nova Scotia man is speaking out about a Florida-based magazine subscription company with a slew of complaints against it after his mother fell victim to the business's telemarketing push.

Craig Cote said his mother, 75-year-old Theresa Gillis of Dartmouth, N.S., is being billed hundreds of dollars even though the company, Magazine Publishers Service, has not provided a written contract or itemized statement for the amount.

Her first bill was $111, the second was $240 and when Cote asked for a full accounting, his mother subsequently received a bill for $843.75.

"I said, 'Wow. That's a pretty good amount for a magazine subscription. What's going on here?"' Cote told CBC News.

His mother has refused to pay the bills, but both worry the company might send her to a collection agency, something that's reportedly happened to other customers.

Some of the magazines sent to Gillis by Magazine Subscriptions Service. (CBC)

It started in March when Gillis received a call from someone with Magazine Publishers Service offering to sell her magazines. She said she agreed to the sales pitch after being told she could cancel within 10 days.

She said she mailed a cancellation letter on the sixth day, but when she called she was told the letter arrived too late, she could not cancel and she had to pay the bill.

Gillis is receiving seven different magazines, including Women's Day, Hello Canada and Country Living. But Cote has no idea how long the subscriptions last or how Magazine Publishers Service arrived at $843.

His mother received several calls asking for payment, but she refused and has not heard from the company in three weeks. Cote said he is thankful she never gave her credit card number.

"I think it's pretty heinous that someone is able to do this and put a senior in dire straits," he said.

BBB warning about company

Gillis's situation is very similar to the more than 140 complaints about the company filed over the past three years on the Better Business Bureau website.

The BBB has taken the unusual step of placing an alert on the company, and says there's been a "pattern" of complaints from consumers. They include allegations of charging people without authorization, high-pressure calls, not sending terms-and-conditions paperwork, and not cancelling subscriptions at a customer's request.

Some customers complain they were misled about the amount they were charged. Others say they were told they could cancel at any time, and were promised a diamond watch and entry into a sweepstakes for thousands of dollars.

Still others say they were charged but no magazines ever arrived. Some complain their accounts were sent to a collection agency. Many complained they were misled and their credit cards were charged much more than they expected.

"I'm living a nightmare," one person wrote on the BBB site.

Company does not acknowledge wrongdoing

In 73 of those cases, the company responded to the satisfaction of the customers after BBB became involved.

In most cases, the response is virtually identical. The company does not admit doing anything wrong, but closes the accounts, writes off the balance and places the customer on a "Do Not Call" list.

Magazine Subscriptions Service uses a template to respond to most BBB complaints. (Better Business Bureau)

The BBB has given Magazine Publishers Service an "F" rating. It says the company operates under other names, including Canada Mags, M. Video Readers Club of America, Inc., National Readers of North America and Canadian Periodicals Service.

The websites for two of those companies are identical, except for the name.

National Readers of North America also has an "F" rating from the BBB. It has 64 complaints, 23 of which were rectified to the customer's satisfaction.

CBC News has made multiple efforts to contact Magazine Publishers Service by both email and phone since May 18. While we were assured by phone that someone would contact us, no one has.

The website for Magazine Publishers Service (top) is almost identical to that of National Readers of North America (bottom). (Magazine Publishers Service/National Readers of North America)

Companies that sell directly to consumers are regulated in Nova Scotia, but a government spokesperson said Magazine Publishers Service is not licensed to operate in the province.

"Service Nova Scotia can confirm that neither Magazine Publishers Service nor any of the other names we found that it operates under in Canada hold a Direct Sellers Permit to sell in Nova Scotia," said Service Nova Scotia spokesperson Marla MacInnis.

She said the sale would be considered a direct sale, and the purchaser would be protected under the Direct Sellers' Regulation Act.

MacInnis said the law specifies "a contract is unenforceable if the direct seller is not licensed at the time of sale and no action can be taken by a direct seller against a purchaser for the enforcement of that direct sales contract."

Cold-call advice

The president of the Direct Sellers Association of Canada said consumers need to exercise their rights when they receive high-pressure sales calls. Peter Maddox's organization does not include businesses that sell by phone, but instead represents companies like Avon, Pampered Chef and Mary Kay that use alternative techniques.

He said the organization checks business practices and ensures they're operating legally before they can join. As for cold calls, he said people should know they have a right to say, "I don't want to speak to you," or they want to think about an offer.

"No one should ever expect a sale on that first cold call," Maddox said. "From a common sense perspective I would say you should never buy anything on a cold call."

He said consumers should do research on a company before agreeing to anything. His other tips include:

  • Get a written contract outlining the term, price and product.
  • Get a receipt.
  • Check the company's BBB rating.
  • Understand your province's legislation, and check on the "cooling off" or returns policy.

As for Craig Cote, he has filed a formal complaint with both the BBB and Service Nova Scotia.

"It's something that we need to get a better handle on," he said. "I really think that seniors, especially, are unprepared for something like this."

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story referred to the company as Magazine Subscriptions Service. In fact, the company name is Magazine Publishers Service.
    Jun 07, 2018 8:02 AM AT

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Yvonne Colbert

Consumer Watchdog

Yvonne Colbert has been a journalist for nearly 35 years, covering everything from human interest stories to the provincial legislature. These days she helps consumers navigate an increasingly complex marketplace and avoid getting ripped off. She invites story ideas at yvonne.colbert@cbc.ca

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