A federal court has temporarily halted the operations of a company that the Federal Trade Commission and State of Florida allege has charged hundreds of incarcerated people and their families millions of dollars for magazine subscriptions that show up late or not at all.
The complaint filed by the FTC and Florida alleges that Inmate Magazine Service, Inc. (IMS) and its owner, Roy Snowden, marketed magazine subscriptions to consumers serving prison sentences, as well as their families, offering to send the magazines to the prisoners while they were incarcerated and promising the magazines would arrive within 120 days.
In fact, the complaint alleges that in many cases the magazines never arrived or were delivered far later than promised, with no notification to the consumers about delayed shipment or the chance to cancel their orders as required by the FTC’s Mail, Internet, or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule.
IMS offered magazines in “bundles” for which consumers paid a set subscription fee plus a “handling charge” of up to $7.99. Consumers were required to pay upfront in full for the magazines they ordered.
According to the complaint, the company is nearly impossible to contact to request a refund or inquire about the status of an order. The IMS “customer service” number is often not monitored, nor does it have voicemail capability, and, while the company’s website offers a form for consumers to complete, it includes a notice that customer service requests are limited to one every 30 days.
As a result, the complaint alleges, consumers regularly complained to advocacy groups and law enforcement agencies about not receiving their orders from IMS. When consumer advocates made contact with IMS after receiving these complaints, the company would often refuse to give any refunds and cite to its “no refunds” policy. At times IMS responded by offering “free” magazines to consumers instead of refunds, but those magazines also rarely, if ever, were delivered.
IMS itself was not actually aware of the status of consumers’ orders, saying that, once it sent a consumer’s subscription request to a magazine publisher, it was unable to track it. One consumer who contacted a magazine publisher directly to inquire about the status of their order received a notice that the publisher had no record of the order and had no relationship of any kind with IMS, even though IMS had advertised this publication on its website as part of a subscription bundle.
The complaint alleges that IMS, Snowden, 318 LLC (Florida), 318 LLC (Wyoming), Inmate Magazine Service of N.A. LLC, and Inmate Magazines Plus.Com of N.A., LLC violated the FTC Act, the FTC’s Mail, Internet, or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule, and the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.
The FTC appreciates the valuable assistance of the Better Business Bureaus of Northwest Florida and Northern Colorado and Wyoming with this investigation.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint and request for a temporary restraining order was 4-0. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the named defendants are violating or are about to violate the law and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The case will be decided by the court.
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