Imagine finding out that an elderly loved one in your family had signed up for multiple magazine subscriptions while believing they had won a $5,000 sweepstakes. It happened to at least one consumer, and the company behind the complaint is in metro Atlanta.
Christine Padovan flies across the country to help her 78-year-old mother as often as possible, sharing smartphone videos and photos with family and friends.
However, Christine Padovan wasn't with her mom, Agnes, when she received a sweepstakes flyer in the mail.
"It said that she had won $5,000 and to call this 800 number to retrieve her prize," Christine Padovan said.
A phone call later, Agnes learned she was not a winner. Instead, she was enrolled in the sweepstakes and then thought she had agreed to a one-time charge of $97.17 for a magazine promotion from the Atlanta-based company, USA's Finest Publishers.
"Their customer service says to me this is not just a one-time charge of $97.17," Padovan said.
Instead, her mom was on the hook for eight payments for more than $777 for five magazines for five years. What did her mother receive? Two magazines: Readers Digest and Good Housekeeping.
"If you go to magazines.com, Good Housekeeping is only $5 a year! $5! I mean, come on $5! Readers Digest, a one year subscription is $15" Padovan said.
So CBS Atlanta went to USA's Finest on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard to get their side of the story.
"I do everything I'm supposed to do by the book, and there's nothing that you can do or anybody else can do. You're targeting the wrong person," USA's Finest Publishers President Lucinda Patel said.
Christine Padovan stopped the charges on her mom's credit card, but then got a chargeback letter demanding payment.
The letter says in part, "You gave us authorization to charge your account..." It then goes on to say, "When you were entered into our $5,000 sweepstake drawing..."
"Many consumers don't understand until after the fact what they've bought, what the deal is and maybe even who they're dealing with as far as the company," Mike Boynton with the Better Business Bureau said.
The Better Business Bureau says USA's Finest Publishers has an "F" rating and has chalked up 35 complaints in three years.
"You're not going to get any more legit than what I do. I've done this for 20 years. There's no purchase nor payment necessary to be eligible for my sweepstakes. They don't have to buy nothing," Patel said.
"They may be meeting the letter of the law, the regulation, but when the message is given and received it is clear to us that it is not understood, especially the seniors," Boynton said.
USA's Finest insists they are not targeting the elderly. They claim other illegitimate companies are piggybacking off their name and tarnishing their reputation. They did cancel Christine Padovan's mother's subscription and offered to allow CBS Atlanta to listen to their recorded phone call with Agnes, but never produced it.
What do you think? Are five magazines for five years really worth $777? Tell us what you think on our Facebook page.
If your loved one is far away, it can be especially tough to know if they are being targeted by scam artists. As you talk to your elderly parent listen carefully, and ask nearby friends and caretakers to watch out for these signs:
Junk Mail Junkie
Do sweepstakes notifications, free gift and magazine offers fill up your parent's mailbox? Then it's likely they are on a "sucker list," according to the National Consumer League. It happens when one parent takes the bait for a scam, and fraudsters sell your parent's name, address and phone number to other con artists.
Phone Call Junkie
The same applies if your parent seems to get a lot of unsolicited calls while you're visiting, or mentions it when you talk. Seniors tend to answer their phone, and are often too polite to hang up on anyone.
Does your loved one mention that they are getting "free" medical devices, tests or equipment? This could be a sign that your parent is the victim of Medicare fraud. Unnecessary and even fake tests and scans can be offered at malls, health clubs and retirement centers that then end up on your parent's insurance. "Special deals" and cost reductions on medication refills, often found on the Internet by seniors trying to save money, can be connected to counterfeit prescription drugs. And a mention of free prizes, sweepstakes, cheap vacations, low-cost health care products and anti-aging miracle cures is another flag that your parent might be a target.
Tuesday, April 20 2010 11:21 PM EDT2010-04-21 03:21:00 GMT
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