Telemarketer sticks elderly Knoxville woman with unwanted magazine subscriptions

Rosemary has been billed $25 a month since April for magazines she doesn’t want. (WATE)
Rosemary has been billed $25 a month since April for magazines she doesn’t want. (WATE)

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Have you ever received a call from a salesperson wanting to sell you magazines? Sometimes they talk so fast it’s difficult to understand just what they’re saying. That’s part of the pitch for some telemarketers – to catch you off guard.

A Knoxville woman received a call like that last spring and the magazines have been piling up at her home. Many magazines were bought directly from the publisher and sell for $10 to $15 per year. You can often terminate the deal early.

When a telemarketer calls your home, you’re likely signing up for multi-year contracts with an assortment of magazines. They come with monthly bills and no way to cancel. If you’re nearly 80 years old and frail, it’s not likely you would be ordering a subscription to Weight Watchers.

Susie Wright from Sevierville visits her older sister Rosemary at her home in Knoxville once a week. Rosemary is a widow, lives alone, and asked that her last name be withheld. Wright says Rosemary wants to stay in her home of 45 years where things are familiar and simple. Rosemary has no computer – only a phone a TV.

About six months ago, half a dozen different magazines started showing up in her mailbox. Those include Fast Company, Shape, Motor Trend and Weight Watchers.

“No, I did not order them. They just send whatever they want to,” she said.

Since April she’s been billed nearly $25 a month for magazines Rosemary says she doesn’t want. The bill is coming from Midwest Publishers, Inc., a magazine sales and distribution business out of Minnesota.

Rosemary has been billed $25 a month since April for magazines she doesn't want.
Rosemary has been billed $25 a month since April for magazines she doesn’t want.

“I try to help her all I can because I know she lives by herself. A lot of people take advantage of her. She didn’t want their magazines; she wanted out of it,” said Wright.

Two weeks ago, with her sister’s help, Rosemary got on the phone and talked with a representative at Midwest Publishers.

“I told him, he could keep them all, I did not want anymore magazines,” she said.

Wright says Midwest Publishers played back an audio tape of her sister’s conversation from last spring. Rosemary said the salesperson spoke a mile a minute. Rosemary says the customer service representative from Midwest Publishers would not cancel her order. However, she says she was given an option to end the subscriptions – a $423 payment.

“If she wanted to cancel now, she would have to pay that. I try to get her to tell me what she has ordered. A lot of times she does not remember what she has ordered,” said Wright, adding that her sister has a touch of dementia.

The Better Business Bureau says Midwest Publishers has a grade of “F.”

“No, it doesn’t surprise me a bit. Seems like these people prey on old people, I don’t like that,” said Wright.

Regarding magazine sales tactics by telemarketers, The US Attorney General’s office has some warnings. Don’t believe claims about winning a gift if you make a purchase. Ask to read fine print and instead of agreeing over the phone, ask to have pricing terms mailed to you. Be extremely cautious with your bank and credit card information and don’t be afraid to hang up if something doesn’t seem right.

WATE 6 On Your Side contacted Midwest Publishers, Inc. A spokesperson said after listening to the sales call, they agree the salesperson spoke too quickly and said they will offer additional training. They cancelled Rosemary’s subscription account and say they would immediately refund her money.

Rosemary and her sister are pleased with the company’s swift action and want others to learn from their experience with a simple word of caution – hang up.

Three quarters of the Better Business Bureau complaints about Midwest Publishers are over advertising and sales issues.

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