5 Ways to Avoid Magazine Subscription Scams & How to Subscribe Safely

Magazine subscriptions should be easy. Scammers are everywhere, costing Americans over $300M. We have gathered data from experts to show you who to avoid and who to trust.


Cameron Craig
Updated 8 September 2021
5 Ways to Avoid Magazine Subscription Scams & How to Subscribe Safely
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Sections on this page
  1. Magazines...Where's the Scam?
  2. 5 Essential Tips to Avoid Magazine Scams
  3. Avoid These Magazine Companies & Sellers
  4. Verified Publishers & Re-Sellers of Magazines
  5. Frequently Asked Questions

Magazine subscription scams have been around for over 20 years and have involved criminal actions from door-to-door salespeople, telemarketers, and mail fraudsters who send out fake renewal/cancellation slips. 

Third-party sales companies and criminals are to blame as they aim to get new subscribers at any cost, with many evolving their tricks and tactics over time. Magazine publishers may have no idea of how their product is being used to deceive people. 

Unfortunately, many people have lost money to magazine fraudsters. These fraudsters pushed the limits by using magazine brand names to gain trust and to spread and legitimize their fraud. 

Court cases in magazine scams have seen as many as 60 defendants accused of magazine scams in a single case, a scam which tricked people into losses of over $300 million, as prosecuted by The District of Minnesota and investigated by the FBI.

ALERT: There continues to be active reports in 2021 of the magazine crew scam in California and a number of other states. 

Magazines...Where's the Scam?

When magazine companies began to let third parties represent their good name to chase new subscribers (e.g., telemarketing companies calling on behalf of brands like The Atlantic, Business Week, or Vogue), it meant that the telemarketer got immediate brand recognition and trust with a caller which made selling easy.

Regarding the exchange between the customer and the seller, consumers had been trained that with magazines, you sent them a check or credit card information and waited. You did not receive the product immediately, and you trusted it would arrive. These conditions are too good to ignore for scammers. 

Magazine publishers paid great commissions to third-party distributors and markets who could whip up new subscribers. Unfortunately, these same publishers turned a blind eye and blamed the third-party contractors.

Over $300M Lost in Magazine Scam

Over the past twenty years, the defendants devised and carried out a telemarketing scheme to defraud victim-consumers located across the United States, many of whom were elderly and vulnerable.

They accomplished their fraud scheme by calling victim-consumers who had one or more existing magazine subscriptions and offering to "renew" the existing magazine subscriptions, often at a reduced cost. In reality, the defendants were not calling to renew or reduce the price of the existing subscriptions. Instead, the defendants tricked their into signing up for entirely new magazine subscriptions, which they did not want and often could afford...

As a result, many victim-consumers were victimized by multiple magazine companies. Some were fraudulently billed by as many as ten companies at a time and received more than $1,000 in monthly magazine subscription charges.

In all, the defendants stole more than $300 million from more than 150,000 victims using this scheme.

- Justice.gov

5 Essential Tips to Avoid Magazine Scams

The most important strategy to staying safe with magazine subscriptions is to control your own magazine renewal process.

Know when each magazine is up for renewal and only deal with the magazine publisher directly, or only use our list of Verified magazine sellers below. 

1. Don't Let Anyone Into Your Home (Magazine Crews)

If you encounter a door-to-door salesperson, don't let them inside your home. You need to control your own magazine so don't be pushed into buying, They are only there for their benefit and not for you.

By allowing these salespeople into your home, you're opening yourself up to more than just magazine subscription fraud. There have been admissions from magazine crews who were invited into people's homes and would steal whatever they could. Others could use this as a way to scope the inside of your house for a future robbery or home invasion.

Never let someone past the front door, even if they have a copy of Time or The Economist in their hands and a renewal sheet to build your trust. 

Advice from the U.S. Attorney General

Magazine crews have targeted seniors who engage with sellers at the doorstep or over the phone. U.S. Attorney General Erica MacDonald says, “Unfortunately, we live in a world where fraudsters are willing to take advantage of seniors, who are often trusting and polite.” Be firm and direct—don't get tricked at your own home. Add a 'No Soliciting' sign, and don't answer unless you can confirm you know the person.

2. Never Buy a Magazine over the Phone 

Scammers or sellers without scruples have been known to use the phone to target older people. It is much harder to see what you are signing up for on the phone—some sketchy sellers have recorded a 'Yes' on the phone and re-used it to sign the customer up for many magazines. 

Example of Magazine Subscription Phone Scam

...the telemarketers used a partial recording of the call—that included her consent—to sign Phyllis up for more subscriptions. During a four-week period beginning in December 2017, 17 different magazine subscription resellers across eight states charged her more than $1,500.

(Published in Mpls St Paul)

It's essential to understand and control your magazine subscription list—don't let someone tell you what needs renewing and what does not. Set up a calendar and only deal directly with the publisher. 

Advice from the FBI

“Using a tactic like telemarketing magazine sales, these deceitful scam artists bill hard-earned money from their aging victims—leaving so many financially devastated in their retirement years and without recourse for recovery,” Michael Paul, the FBI’s special agent in charge in Minneapolis, said.

Don't sign up over the phone on a sales call. 

3. Validate the Address on Renewals

Many scammers have taken to replicating the magazine renewal notices and sending out a 'courteous reminder' to renew early for savings or discounts—it all seems simple.

However, if you complete the wrong renewal, the scammer will take your money, and you'll never get the magazine. You must check the mailing address for renewals against the original publisher on their website or inside their magazines. In this example provided by The Nation, the address became the main way for consumers to differentiate between a genuine renewal and a scam.

magazine-subscription
The Nation magazine shows the difference between a real renewal / donation and fakes from scammers

Advice from California's Attorney General

Read the fine print. Look at any “renewal” notice carefully, including the fine print and the name of the sender.

4. Don't Take the 'Free Magazine' Gift with Purchase or Claim the Sweepstake Prize

Many retailers might offer a magazine subscription as a 'gift with purchase' or you might get a call which tells you that you will win the prize if you call in and complete the steps. 

Gift With Purchase

Unlike a standard gift where the gift giver needs to pay for the gift, a magazine subscription is different—a publisher pays commissions to retailers for subscriptions. Therefore, by getting you to subscribe for 6 months for free as a gift with purchase, it looks like you are getting a value-add, but really, it is lining the pockets of the retailer who receives a commission and the publisher who gets a new subscriber. 

The bigger the subscription, the bigger the commission payout for the retailer. Therefore, some sellers will try to hide that you are actually signing up for an auto-renewing subscription, allowing the publisher to keep billing the credit card you used for the original unrelated purchase months earlier. Avoid the gift with purchases unless you are totally sure that the terms of the exchange are in your favor.

Sweepstakes / Prizes

Magazine-Sweepstakes-Scams
A common prize used to hook people is 52 weeks of $10,000 per week

A common scam is for the telemarketer to call with the news of "prize or reward," which requires you to purchase a magazine subscription to claim the prize. 

Advice from the San Angelo Police Department 

Victims are informed by postcard or phone that they have won one of three or four prizes as some sort of promotional offering. The caller will not specify the prize, but it will be represented as something of extraordinary value, such as a car, cash, or jewelry. Victims are told that they have to sign up for the magazines and cover handling, taxes, shipping, and accounting fees to collect their prize. If any prize is eventually received, it is always worth less than the processing money.

5. Beware of Door-to-Door Sellers with a Charity Story

Many magazine sellers have had a tough break in life and are looking for work. Selling magazines in a magazine "crew" might be something they stumble into.

However,  Alachua County Sheriff’s Office spokesman, Art Forgey, said that in Florida, a target location for magazine crews and scams, there are both illegitimate and legitimate salespeople representing news magazines in crews.

Magazine crews are organized to push magazines with a charity or tough luck story and can be transformative for some of these people earning a commission.

"Some crews do a good job and help people create an income," Crystal Davis from Young People Working told the Atlantic.

“I’ve been in this business since I was 19, and it’s been wonderful for me, an extraordinary journey."

However, tactics can be exploitative of both the buyer and the representative in the magazine crew. 

Police Warning

The stranger said he was trying to make a living and that his sister was dying of breast cancer.

Then came the pitch: Would Rohan want to buy some magazine subscriptions?

Rohan said no, but the stranger did not let up.

“He was pushy,” Rohan recalled. “He refused to take no for an answer.”

Source: The Gainesville Sun

Many members of magazine crews don't even know that their employer is sketchy.

Frontline sellers might not even know that the subscription forms they are closing never end up going to the magazine publishers, and their subscriptions never arrive. 

Magazine crews typically move around geographically and can be disbanded instantly when the authorities get leads on fraud. 

"I’ve been abandoned 11 times," reported this crew worker in an interview with The Atlantic

Mag crew workers typically work 10- to 12-hour days for little pay, with employers exerting physical or psychological control over them.

Some companies have been known to confiscate workers’ phones. Agents who fail to make their daily quotas (usually about 10 sales) are sometimes beat by managers or other crew members, according to multiple sources within the industry. 

Source: Aljazeera America

Avoid These Magazine Companies & Sellers

The following businesses have been named by the FBI in their magazine case and should be avoided:

  • Amerimag Services Inc.
  • Amerimag Service Center Inc.
  • Angels LLC
  • ARCO Media
  • Brownbean Inc.
  • Central Subscription Service
  • Choice Periodicals
  • Digital Subscriptions Inc.
  • General Subscription Services
  • Gulf Coast Readers
  • Leisure Time Resources
  • Magazine Direct
  • Magazine Service Center
  • Magazine Solutions
  • Magazine Service
  • Middle Man Marketing
  • Midwest Publishers Inc.
  • Midwest Publishers Home Office
  • Midwest Home Office
  • Millennium Marketing
  • MO Management
  • National Magazine Service
  • NP Readers
  • Online Reading Club Inc.
  • Pacific Beach Readers Club
  • Pacific Renewal Service
  • PCC Mags
  • Pinnacle Marketing Group
  • Power Sales and Marketing
  • Preferred Customer Corp
  • Preferred Media Solutions
  • Preferred Media Source
  • Publishers Elite
  • Publishers Elite Subscription
  • Publishers Service Inc
  • Quality Readers Service
  • Readers Club Home Office
  • Readers Club of America
  • Readers Pros Inc.
  • Readers Services Inc.
  • Subscribers Service Center
  • Subscription Ink Co.
  • SubDirect LLC
  • Sun Coast Readers LLC
  • The Magazine Deal Inc.
  • Tropical Readers
  • Universal Readers Service, a/k/a Universal R.S.
  • United Readers Service
  • Viking Magazine Service
  • West Side Readerz Inc.
  • Winners Readers Service
  • Worldwide Publication LLC
  • Your Best Option
  • Your Magazine Service

The Nation lists the following as magazine sellers to avoid:

  • Billing Services Association
  • Billing Services of America
  • Circulation Billing Center
  • Circulation Billing Services
  • Magazine Billing Services
  • Magazine Billing Network
  • Magazine Billing Services
  • Magazine Distribution Services
  • National Magazine Services
  • National Magazine Exchange
  • National Magazine Subscriptions
  • Orbital Publishing Group
  • Pacific Magazine Billing
  • Periodical Billing Services
  • Publishers Billing Association
  • Publishers Billing Center
  • Publishers Billing Exchange
  • Publisher Payment Center (PPC)
  • Publishers Payment Processing, Inc.
  • Publishers Subscription Services
  • Readers Billing Network
  • Readers Billing Services
  • Readers Payment Center
  • Readers Payment Services
  • Secured Publisher Mail Center (SPMC)
  • United Publishers Services 

Are You A Victim?

The FBI and U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) are seeking victims who may have been defrauded by magazine subscription services from 2000 to the present.

Please add your name to the FBI list and complete the questionnaire.

Verified Publishers & Re-Sellers of Magazines

Renew your magazine subscription with the publisher directly (list below) or use one of these accredited services. 

Magazine Subscription Stores (multiple magazine brands)

The following companies offer a magazine subscription service across multiple magazine titles and can be trusted. 

Company BBB Accredited URL
Magazines.com

 Legitimate

www.magazines.com
Discount Mags

 Legitimate

www.discountmags.com
Magazine.Store

 Legitimate

www.magazine.store
Subscription Addiction

 Legitimate

www.subscriptionaddiction.com
Amazon.com

 Legitimate

www.amazon.com

Magazine Titles & Their Publishers - Names You Can Trust

You can trust these publishers and company names for the sale and renewal of magazines. Although it might feel like a company called 'United Magazine Publishing' is legitimate, you should always find out exactly who you are dealing with. The following companies are legitimate. 

Company / Title Legitimate

Conde Nast

Allure | Architectural Digest | Bon Appetit |Conde Nast Traveller | GQ | The New Yorker | Vogue | Vanity Fair | Wired

 

Bloomberg

BusinessWeek

 

Mansueto Ventures

Fast Company | Inc.

 

Penske Media

Rolling Stone | Robb Report | Variety

 

NTVB Media

TV Guide | TV Weekly | View! | Channel Guide

 

Meredith Corporation

25 Beautiful Homes | Ageless Iron | Allrecipes Magazine | American Baby | American Patchwork & Quilting | Better Homes and Gardens[25] | Country Life | Diabetic Living | Do-It-Yourself | Eat This, Not That | EatingWell | Entertainment Weekly | Every Day with Rachael Ray | FamilyFun | Fitness | Food & Wine | Health | InStyle | Living the Country Life | Midwest Living | Parents | People |Practical Boat Owner | Real Simple  | Shape | Siempre Mujer | Southern Living | Successful Farming | Travel + Leisure | Wood | Martha Stewart Living

 

Hearst Magazines

Autoweek | Bicycling | Billboard (magazine) | Car and Driver | Cosmopolitan | Country Living | Dr. Oz THE GOOD LIFE | ELLE | Elle Decor | Esquire | Food Network Magazine | Good Housekeeping | Harper's Bazaar | HGTV Magazine |The Hollywood Reporter | House Beautiful | Marie Claire | Men's Health | Nat Mags | O, The Oprah Magazine | Popular Mechanics | Prevention | Red | Redbook | Road & Track | Rodale's Organic Life | Runner's World | Seventeen

 

Time Inc

Time | Golf Magazine | Fortune | People | Real Simple | Entertainment Weekly  | InStyle | Southern Living | Teen People | Cooking Light | Money | Fortune en Espanol | Fortune Small Business

 

American Media Inc. (a360 Media LLC)

Bike | Closer | Girls World | In Touch | J-14 | Life & Style | Men's Journal | Muscle & Fitness | Muscle & Fitness Hers | OK! | Quizfest | Snowboarder Magazine | Soap | Opera Digest | Star | Surfer | Transworld Skateboarding | Us Weekly

 

Bauer Media Group

First for Women | Women's World | ID Magazine | Empire

 

Trusted Media Brands

Reader’s Digest | Taste of Home | Simple & Delicious  | The Family Handyman  | Country  | Country Woman  | Birds & Blooms | Farm & Ranch Living | Reminisce | EnrichU

 

Bonnier

Cruising World | Sailing World | Yachting | Marlin | Sport Fishing | Boating | W | Working Mother

 

National Geographic  Society

National Geographic Magazine | National Geographic Kids | National Geographic Traveler

 

HistoryNet LLC

America's Civil War ||American History | Aviation History | Civil War Times | Military History, MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History | Vietnam | Wild West | World War II

 

Pride Publishing 

Out | Chill | The Advocate | Pride

 

Red Flag Media 

Decibel

 

Future Publishing 
Bass Player | Guitar Player | Guitar World | MacLife | Maximum PC | PC Gamer US | Marie Claire | Digital Camera | Kiplinger | Future Music

 

The Atlantic Monthly Group LLC

The Atlantic

 

The Economist Group

The Economist

 

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I be scammed by a magazine seller?

The key components of magazine scams are:

  • Rogue Sellers: A third-party seller might have the official license to sell subscriptions, but others may sub-contract and run wild with their own tactics to trick customers.
  • Outright Fraud: Many sellers don't bother with real magazines; they simply fake the renewal cards, adding the logos of well-known magazines and sending them to customer addresses with a 'Renew now' message. Unwitting consumers complete the renewal with credit card details and pop the card into a reply paid envelope, which goes back to the scammer.
  • Theft and Identity Theft: Some rogue crews of door-to-door sellers would look to take any information they could to steal or steal the identity of their victims. 

Where can I report a magazine scam?

Report a fraud with your state Attorney General's Office and other authorities.

I am a victim of a magazine scam, what do I do?

Report your fraud to the FBI as they are seeking victims in their case. You should also cancel the credit card attached to the subscription so the scammers won't be able to charge you further and dispute any fraudulent transactions with your bank.

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