Future Magazine Subscription Autorenewal Investigation
The Lyon Firm is investigating potentially illegal automatic renewal schemes and deceptive billing practices on behalf of plaintiffs nationwide. If you have questions about an auto-renewal of your magazine subscription, contact The Lyon Firm to review.
Deceptive billing schemes have become a frequent complaint for consumers across the country. Many modern business models rely on auto renewal contracts and companies feed on this continual cash flow. These companies are quick to charge you for a service, but they may be overlooking consumer protection laws that make them liable for deceptive billing violations.
Future US (formerly Imagine Media and The Future Network USA) is an American media corporation specializing in targeted magazines and websites in the video game, music, sports and technology markets. The company is headquartered in New York City and owned by parent company, Future plc, a media company based in England. Popular publications include the following:
- Bass Player
- Computer Music
- Country Homes & Interiors
- Cycling Weekly
- Digital Camera
- Digital Photographer
- Electronic Musician
- Future Music
- Golf Monthly
- Horse & Hound
- Laptop Mag
- Marie Claire
- Maximum PC
- Metal Hammer
- PC Gamer
- Radio World
- Homes & Gardens
Online automatic renewal programs are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) under the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act (ROSCA), which requires clear disclosures of contract terms, informed consent before a purchase, and an easy method to cancel the charges. Violations of this law are regarded as unfair or deceptive acts or practices under the Federal Trade Commission Act.
Joe Lyon is a class action consumer fraud lawyer investigating magazine subscription auto-renewal claims, and other deceptive billing practice complaints for plaintiffs nationwide.
What Are the Requirements for Proper Auto-Renewal?
To be clear, companies can legally automatically renew subscriptions if they make all terms clear and obtain your written consent. Too often, however, companies rely on customer confusion, deliberately bypass these requirements and violate consumer fraud statutes.
There are specific components that must be included in subscription automatic renewal contracts:
- Clear disclosures about the offer: Companies must present the terms of any automatic renewal offer “clearly and conspicuously.”
- Disclosures about the contract period: The contract period must be clearly presented prior to a consumer purchase.
- Obtaining consent: Consent must be “express” and “informed.” Written consent is voluntarily given by a competent individual after details of the offer have been disclosed.
- Written confirmation following a purchase: Written acknowledgment must be given to the customer after a purchase, and must include the initial disclosures, and specific information on how to cancel. If a free trial is offered, this must also include details on how to cancel the subscription before being charged.
- Cancellation mechanisms must be simple: Methods to cancel a subscription must be cost-effective, timely, and easy.
- Renewal reminders must be timely: These vary by state, but companies should send proper notice to customers before their subscription is automatically renewed.
Magazine Subscriptions: What are Automatic Renewal Law Violations?
There have been allegations that several magazines may not entirely comply with state Automatic Renewal Laws, and may be liable for relevant violations.
To comply with Illinois law, for example, if the subscription is for less than a year, a magazine is required to disclose the automatic renewal clause clearly and conspicuously, including the cancellation procedure. If the subscription is annual, the magazine is required to comply with subsections (b) and (b.5) of the relevant Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Practices Act, listed below:
- “[a]ny person, firm…that sells or offers to sell products or services to a consumer pursuant to a contract…, where such contract automatically renews unless the consumer cancels the contract, shall disclose the automatic renewal clause clearly and conspicuously in the contract, including the cancellation procedure.” 815 ILCS 601/10 (a).
- “[a]ny person, firm…. that sells or offers to sell products or services to a consumer pursuant to a contract…, where such contract term is a specified term of 12 months or more, and where such contract automatically renews for a term of more than one month unless the consumer cancels the contract, shall notify the consumer in writing of the automatic renewal. Written notice shall be provided to the consumer no less than 30 days and no more than 60 days before the cancellation deadline pursuant to the automatic renewal clause. Such written notice shall disclose clearly and conspicuously: (i) that unless the consumer cancels the contract it will automatically renew; (ii) where the consumer can obtain details of the automatic renewal provision and cancellation procedure (for example, by contacting the business at a specified telephone number or address or by referring the contract). 815 ILCS 601/10 (b)
- “a person, firm…that makes an automatic renewal offer or continues service offer shall provide a toll-free telephone number, electronic mail address, a postal address if the seller directly bills the consumer, or another cost-effective, timely, and easy-to-use mechanism for cancellation that shall be described in subsection (b). 815 ILCS 601/10(b.5). “A consumer who accepts an automatic renewal or continuous service offer online must be allowed to terminate the automatic renewal or continuous service exclusively online, which may include a termination email formatted and provided by the business that a consumer can send to the business without additional information.”
Can I File a Lawsuit for Deceptive Billing Practices?
Magazine subscribers who have been unwittingly entered into an automatic renewal agreement should contact a consumer fraud attorney and consider taking legal action. The Lyon Firm believes that companies that mislead their customers into agreements should be held liable and compensate customers for any violations.
You may ask yourself the following questions before contacting an attorney:
- Are your magazine subscription terms and conditions clear and conspicuous?
- Did the company clearly explain their automatic renewal program?
- Does the company have clear instructions on how to cancel a subscription?
- Did the company obtain your affirmative consent before charging you for the product or service?
- Did the company give you proper notice (30-60 days) before your subscription contract was renewed?
Multiple states have updated consumer protection laws that prohibit companies from automatically renewing subscriptions without obtaining proper consent or clearly explaining the terms and conditions of the contract. Federal laws also protect consumers. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), businesses must take proper steps to ensure that charges to customers’ credit cards and accounts are authorized.
Any violations of the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Practices Act by a magazine or another subscription-based entity may constitute an unlawful practice and affected individuals can contact an attorney to consider seeking compensation and justice.
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