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Check subscription offers carefully

In October 1998, I received a phone call from International Book Corp. The number on my caller ID showed up as (000) 000-0000 in Mesa, Ariz.

The company had a really good deal for me to renew my subscription to Soap Opera Digest, which was expiring Nov. 2, 1999. All I had to do was either pay with my credit card, which I chose not to do, or make three payments of $78. Because its billing department made a mistake, I made four payments of $78 for a total of $312.

I wrote International Book Corp. when I had 27 issues of Soap Opera Digest left to see about getting a refund for the fourth payment. I also called the magazine to inform it about this overpayament.

The magazine informed me that it had never heard of this group. Furthermore, International Book had never contacted Soap Opera Digest to renew my subscription.

I was given an address to send copies of my checks to, and the magazine said it would try to clear up this problem before the expiration date.

I also sent a certified letter to International Book and received the signed return receipt, so I knew it received my letter. I had said I wanted to cancel my order and get my $312 back.

My subscription has expired, and I have not received a thing from International Book. I have been reading and hearing about telemarketing rip-offs and have filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. You have helped me in the past; maybe you can get action this time. Carole Birkeland

Response: You are going to be disappointed. We couldn't get International Book Corp. in Scottsdale, Ariz., to respond to us, either. Like you, we know that the company received at least our second letter since we have the signed return receipt.

The Better Business Bureau in Phoenix opened its file on the company in March 1994, but the company never responded to the bureau's requests for basic information. According to the bureau report, the company has an unsatisfactory rating due to its failure to respond to customer complaints, and caution is advised.

According to the bureau report, International Book Corp. also goes by the names International Circulations, Magazine Processing Center, Magazine Service Processing Center, Western Book Corp., Western Book Publishers and IBC International Book Corp. On Feb. 13, 1995, Western Book Corp. filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 with the U.S. Bankruptcy court in Phoenix.

We suspect that you are going to have to chalk this ordeal up to experience since we are not hopeful that you will see your money again. While there are legitimate companies that sell magazine subscriptions over the phone, many aren't.

It always pays to check out a company before accepting an offer made by phone. Ask for written information before committing yourself to a purchase. Had you checked out International Book Corp. with the Better Business Bureau, we suspect you would not have done business with it.

While we're on the subject of magazines, we would also like to pass on these additional tips from the Council of Better Business Bureaus in Arlington, Va. It's a somewhat different situation than yours, but thousands of complaints are received each year from consumers who unknowingly purchase multiyear magazine subscriptions from unscrupulous telemarketers.

Apparently consumers often don't even realize that they have purchased multiple magazines until they get a bill for them. The bureau cautions consumers to listen carefully to sales pitches made over the phone. Ask questions and, if you're not interested, say so and hang up.

Find out the yearly cost of each magazine and the total package and compare theme to regular subscription rates. Paying a few dollars a week for a package of magazines may sound like a good deal until you do the math.

Finally, remember that paying by credit card gives you certain protections you don't have when you pay by check.

Lost in space

Reaction: I was amused at the letter in Action on May 17 from Joseph Hutso, who lives in Shores of Long Bayou. He was confused about where he lived.

I also am in a quandary. It's very confusing to try to explain where I live to people trying to locate me or to those asking for that information on forms and documents. Most people just shake their head in wonder.

I live in Pasco County and have a Hernando County address and a Hillsborough Country telephone number. I just wanted to share this so Mr. Hutso would know he is not alone.

As a post script, I use Spring Hill as the city on my address, but the Zip code is Brooksville. I receive mail addressed either way. Marlene McMunn

Action solves problems and gets answers for you. If you have a question, or your own attempts to resolve a consumer complaint have failed, write Times Action, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or call your Action number, 893-8171, or, outside of Pinellas, (800) 333-7505, ext. 8171, to leave a recorded request.

Requests will be accepted only by mail or voice mail; calls cannot be returned. We will not be responsible for personal documents, so please send only photocopies. If your complaint concerns merchandise ordered by mail, we need copies of both sides of your canceled check.

We may require additional information or prefer to reply by mail; therefore, readers must provide a full mailing address, including ZIP code. Names of letter writers will not be omitted except in unusual circumstances. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.