Magazine Billing Services, Inc.

Magazine Billing Services, Inc.
P.O. Box 8001
San Luis Obispo, CA 93406
Customer Service: 1-866-808-8199

I received this renewal notice for Wired Magazine in the mail the other day.  My Wired subscription isn’t due until 2010.

Mbs_wired_front

Mbs_wired_back

I also received a similar renewal notice for PC Magazine.

What we have here is a giant scam apparently operated out of San Luis Obispo by a guy named Gary Hutchings.

A search of the California Secretary of State website reveals the following information:

Magazine Billing Services, Inc.
Number: C2727892
Date Filed: 3/17/2005
Status: Active
Address: 406 Higuera Street, Suite 120, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
Agent for Service of Process: Gary Hutchings, 2456 Santa Clara, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

A web search on the name, Gary Hutchings came up with this:

“Even though the home phone number of this company’s president is widely available online, you must ABSOLUTELY NOT call him. To do so would be a terrible violation of privacy and trust. You MUST NOT think about the EXTRAORDINARY PLEASURE that you would derive from speaking with this man, or the INCREDIBLE SENSE OF JUSTICE AND SATISFACTION that would result in said conversation. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES pick up the telephone and dial l 805-543-3090  and ask to speak with Gary Hutchings. It would be a HORRIBLE, CRUEL, FIENDISHLY ENJOYABLE thing to do.”

I can only warn you that calling 805-543-3090 after receiving one of these bogus magazine subscription notices would be a totally uncivilized and boorish thing to do.  Especially after waiting for an hour on hold on the 1-866-808-8199 so-called customer service line, it would be totally inappropriate to call the owner of Magazine Billing Services, Inc. to complain about their deceptive and unlawful business practices.

Deceptive and unlawful business practices

Gary Hutchings has said that he’s doing nothing unlawful.   But I’m not so sure.

For one thing, I was told by customer service at Wired Magazine and PC Magazine that Magazine Billing Services, Inc. isn’t authorized to sell their magazines.  So, a "Notice of Renewal" for a magazine that they aren’t authorized to sell, is in my opinion, deceptive on it’s face.

The U.S. Postal Service has very detailed requirements for what and what is legal to go though the mails, and basically, it’s unlawful to try to deceive people by mailing something that looks like a bill or an invoice.  The solicitation must bear on it’s face either the disclaimer required by 39 USC 3001(d)(2)(A) or the notice: "THIS IS NOT A BILL. THIS IS A SOLICITATION. YOU ARE UNDER NO OBLIGATION TO PAY THE AMOUNT STATED ABOVE UNLESS YOU ACCEPT THIS OFFER."   This must be on the face in at least 30-point type.

The "Notice of Renewal" I received from Magazine Billing Services, Inc. doesn’t have a disclaimer on the face of the document.  There’s a disclaimer on the back of the document, but the wording does not conform with the above requirements.

In addition, if the solicitation consists of more than one page or if any page is designed to be separated into portions (e.g. by tearing along a perforated line), the entire notice or disclaimer must appear on both pieces of paper.

Again, Magazine Billing Services, Inc. is not in compliance with this U.S. Postal Regulation.

Besides the United States Postal Regulations, Magazine Billing Services, Inc. appears to be in violation of the below California Business and Professions Code. 

The violations of the U.S. Postal Regulations as well as the fact that they deceiving the public about their authorization to sell Wired and PC World magazine subscriptions. would trigger the B&S section below –

17500. It is unlawful for any person, firm, corporation or association, or any employee thereof with intent
directly or indirectly to dispose of real or personal property or to perform services, professional or otherwise, or
anything of any nature whatsoever or to induce the public to enter into any obligation relating thereto, to make or
disseminate or cause to be made or disseminated before the public in this state, or to make or disseminate or cause
to be made or disseminated from this state before the public in any state, in any newspaper or other publication, or
any advertising device, or by public outcry or proclamation, or in any other manner or means whatever, any
statement, concerning such real or personal property or services, professional or otherwise, or concerning any
circumstance or matter of fact connected with the proposed performance or disposition thereof, which is untrue or
misleading, and which is known, or which by the exercise of reasonable care should be known, to be untrue or
misleading, or for any such person, firm, or corporation to so make or disseminate or cause to be so made or
disseminated any such statement as part of a plan or scheme with the intent not to sell such personal property or
services, professional or otherwise, so advertised at the price stated therein, or as so advertised. Any violation of the
provisions of this section is a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months,
or by a fine not exceeding two thousand five hundred dollars ($2,500), or by both.

Each deceptive solicitation Magazine Billing Services pops in the mail could be considered one count under 17500 of the B&P.  At $2,500 a count, they could be liable for millions of dollars in fines under California’s consumer protection statute.  The amount per count goes even higher if they violate the statute a second time.

The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office appears to have a Consumer Protection and Environmental Crimes Section. Unfortunately, It’s been my experience that smaller jurisdictions often don’t have the resources or expertise to work these kind of cases, but perhaps some calls to this unit may bear some results in this case.  Magazine Billing Services, Inc. appears to be operating nationwide and going after them could result in a very sizable settlement going into the District Attorney’s Office general fund.

Telephone calls to
(805) 781-5856 and complaints to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service will probably be more effective than bothering Gary Hutchings at his home phone number.

1-26-06 Update: I received a telephone call this morning from an Investigator with the San Luis Obispo District Attorney’s Office.  Their office is working on this case and they welcome complaints from within California.

2-18-06 Update: Alert reader Zappo has helpfully provided a link to Magazine Billing Services’ Better Business Bureau rating.  Thanks for the heads up.

11 Responses to “Magazine Billing Services, Inc.”

  1. Zappo Says:

    Thanks for putting up this great piece. I’ve gotten “renewal” notices from this scumbag, and even got ahold of him at his home. He accused me of being some other guy who had argued with him earlier that day.

    I contacted KCOY TV in Santa Barbara, and supposedly they were going to do a story on Mr. Hutchings, but I don’t know what came of it.

    Here is the company’s Better Business Bureau report. Funny- if you do a reverse look-up of the primary phone number you can get his home address! http://www.santabarbara.bbb.org/BBBWeb/Forms/Business/CompanyReportPage_Expository.aspx?CompanyID=6002384

  2. seamusm johnson Says:

    While I appreciate your lenthgy diatribe into this “issue,” most consumers approach the subject of magazine renewal completely ignorantly. In your article you seemingly wholeheartedly trust the publisher, making the renewal guy (gary?) out to seem like monster. The irony here is that the ABC (audit bureau of circulations) was established to handle out of control fraud and counterfit number reporting by the publisher, as they were over reporting their subscribers by hundreds of thousands to beef up ad revenue (earning them tens of millions of dollars). Hence, all subscribers and renewals must be legit and come under the scrutiny of frequent audits.

    Secondly, no customer service rep you speak to on the phone will have any idea how the subscription renewal process actually works: 99% of all publishers outsource their renewal programs…so even the bit you get in the mail from “wired” isn’t actually from wired. It’s from some marketing company they’ve hired to handle it all for them. You can bet the 6/hr person on the phone isn’t going to have a clue about what’s really going on. But this works out well for the publisher, as they want the consumers to feel warm and cozy, hiding under the rug the fact that all they care about is getting more legit numbers stuffed into circulation (do you really think the publisher is going to care if some independant agent spends tens of thousands of dollars to get them subscribers????).

    Consumers need to wake up and stop their complaining. So what, you got a piece of junk mail in your mail box. Throw it out. Or Read the stinking thing and recognize that it’s got “offer” plastered all over it.

    Just my 2 cents as I keep reading about the “evil” renewal guys and their angelic publisher counterparts.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Gary Hutchings is a good man. He got into this business not knowing of its consequences. Other people which i will not disclose designed the mail piece and distributed them all over the country. Our job was solely to process the orders. The moment we learned of this industries fraudulent nature, we quickly exited and deceased mailing. Get your facts right before accusing people. Besides, we are not the only agents hired by mail houses to sell magazines for publishers with deceiving mail pieces. For a time, we were the largest. Sorry for the OFFER!!! we sent you, but get over it.

  4. Ed Riggins Says:

    Well they must have tricked Gary’s entire family as well because I just saw a copy of a lawsuit filed out of state that names him, Donna J. Hutchings, Jeffery L. Hutchings, and Marcie Hutchings-Oeler as well as a host of other men and women and about a dozen other corporations all doing the same bogus offers. I guess they can all explain how they got tricked into breaking the law and trampling on trademarks and that it all is someone else’s fault but they can’t say who…

  5. Ed Riggins Says:

    Magazine Billing Services, Inc., Publisher’s Fulfillment Services, Inc., Intermountain Magazine Clearing Services, Inc., Publisher’s Billing Services, Inc., Magazine Paymtnt Services, Inc., Publisher’s Clearing Emporium, Inc., Publisher’s Processing Service, Inc., Circulation Billing Services, Inc., Reader’s Billing Services, Inc., Publisher”s Billing Emporium, Inc., Global Data Services, Inc., Mail Industries, Inc., National Fulfillment Services, IC Marketing, Inc…. I have more but tire of typing. They all use the same forms and PO Boxes and an answering machine…

  6. DHolland Says:

    I would like to comment on this issue as I am very familiar with both the sub-agent industry as well as with the particular people involved.

    The above poster is correct when he/she says that it was “other people” that he/she would not disclose, and I can tell you exactly when and why the Hutchings came to be involved with them. These are the same people who ran IC Marketing, Publishers Service Exchange, American Consumer Publishing Association and about another dozen or so DBAs (Doing Business As) that are listed on many magazine’s Subscriber Alerts. Just google the above companies and you will see what I mean. Although now they call themselves Global Data Services, Inc out of White City, Oregon.

    In June of 2004, IC Marketing, et al settled a lawsuit with the State of Oregon. Part of the agreement is listed below.

    “The company further agrees to place the following statement on the front of its mailers to augment its existing consumer disclosures: “INDEPENDENT AGENT NOT A BILL KEEP THIS PORTION FOR RECEIPT OF OFFER”. The settlement also prohibits IC Marketing from soliciting consumers to buy publications the company cannot provide because the publication is no longer being published; or because the company lacks authorization from a clearinghouse, agent or publisher to sell the publication; or because the company is not authorized to sell the publication with a particular length of subscription.”

    This posed a problem, as they rely on a offer that looks like a bill, as well as selling magazines where they are not authorized by the publishers.

    So, they decided to help relatives and friends in other states set up what are basically front companies, and send out the “offers” as them in order to get around the agreement with the State of Oregon. The Hutchings were the first of these front companies. Basically, all the Hutchings had to do was perform data entry. Global Data Services took care of the mailing lists, designing the mail piece, putting together and sending the mailers, remitting the orders to magazine clearing houses as well as performing customer service (this is why they all use the same answering machine noted by one of the above posters).

    The Hutchings should have known, and I think they did know, what kind of business practices they were getting involved with, considering that they started doing business together merely a month after the agreement with the State of Oregon was reached. Magazine BILLING Services, c’mon even the name reeks of deceptive business practices. They were making easy money for a while and only started caring about the “fraudulent nature” of the business when they started garnering the attention of the media and various lawyers.

    I would love to know who is bringing suit against these people, or at least in which state the lawsuit is being brought forth.

  7. Ed Riggins Says:

    The complaint was filed in Michigan on behalf of AUTOWEEK. I’m sure all the players know about it as they are named in the documents. Presently there are some jurisdictional issues to resolve, but the guy at AUTOWEEK seems very relentless in his pursuit of these crooks, and I have the impression that he will change venues and refile elsewhere if that is what it will take to get the job done. Why not disclose the “other people” if they didn’t do anything wrong? Or is it another part of the “family” like the Sopranos?

  8. Steve A Says:

    Gary (and Family) now uses “SLO Call Center” as a front for their operation. They also have a business that targets High Schools and for fund raising “opportunities.” I pulled up the web site earlier because the envelope they sent me had been pre-addressed but then overwritten with a sticker with the SLO Call Center info – same address, just different name.

    You can defend they guy but it’s really a sleazy way to make a living…milking a few dollars from retired folks and such who think they are paying a bill…

  9. Gary Hutchings Says:

    OMG!!!… Thats the last thing I need.. Some dude with my name doing criminal stuff…. The only other guy I know with my name works in Hollywood!… Got to love it!!

  10. Anon Reader Says:

    WARNING The same scammers from SLO are now operating out of a PO Box in Reno.
    I mistakenly sent a check made out to Time, Inc to the SLO address years back.
    When I contacted Time to ask why my subscription stopped they explained this billing fraud to me. Luckily, I made the check out to Time, Inc and not MBS.
    I called the Wells Fargo Bank in SLO where the check was deposited in MBS’s account. I complained that MBS fraudulently endorsed and deposited a check made out to Time, Inc. in MBS’s account. With a fraud claim thru my own bank to Wells Fargo I was able to recover my funds from Wells Fargo. I guess I was lucky. Now when I receive mailings from MBS I send just them kids play money in their return envelope. They deserve a little disappointment when they open the letter. More so, they deserve JAIL.

  11. Way Says:

    DHolland,
    you are aware that these magazine top honchos live in Medford, Oregon and San Diego? Hutchings is merely a brother-in-law of the one of the honchos. As you said, so many of these satelite P.O boxes are set up are for relatives. I will say that the top honchos treat themselves to a very (no, make that EXTREMELY) lavish lifestyle on what is probably lots of elderly people’s money. Of course Hutchings knows what his relatives do… oh pleeeease don’t let him bore us all with feigned ignorance.

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