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Scammers target L.A. Times subscribers with fraudulent bills

About 500 Los Angeles Times subscribers have reported receiving fraudulent mailings seeking higher-than-normal renewal fees, part of a scheme that has targeted dozens of publications nationwide.

The Times first learned one of its subscribers had been targeted Sept. 26, said Bill Yawman, the senior director of audience development.

At first, only a few readers called about the mailing. But the number has since grown significantly, he said. Last week, 350 subscribers reported receiving a suspicious mailing.

The mailings from “Publishers Distribution Services” or “Readers Payment Service” offer subscribers a chance to “lock in at one of our lowest rates” for a yearly renewal of $799.95 — which Yawman said was 40% higher than the actual basic rate. The mailing lists a post office box in White City, Ore., and a website for “Publishers Payment Processing,” which has a Thornwood, N.Y., address.

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The actual Times renewal statement comes with the Times logo and a downtown L.A. address. Payments can be made online but can also be mailed to a post office box in Phoenix.

Other newspapers have reported the same fraudulent renewal forms mailed under various names, including Associated Publishers Network and United Publishers Network.

Yawman stressed that there was no evidence that the scammers had accessed the Times’ customer databases.

“There’s no indication of any kind of hacking or breach of security,” he said. “None of that is the case. This is just a blind mailing.”

Matthew Hutchison, a spokesman for Tribune Publishing Co., said that company officials have been in contact with the Oregon Attorney General’s office and a postal inspector in San Jose, who he said “have been working on this issue intensively.”

“We are also in the process of contacting other state attorneys general, including California’s, as well as various U.S. attorneys and other law enforcement,” Hutchison said.

Several other newspapers have reported being recent targets of the same scam, including the Sacramento Bee, the Arizona Republic and the Wall Street Journal.

The Times is “exploring all legal avenues available … to protect subscribers and prevent the unauthorized use of The Times’ name and goodwill,” said Julie Xanders, the executive vice president and general counsel of Tribune Publishing Co.

The Better Business Bureau also published an alert after fielding complaints about the scam, said Steve McFarland, the president and chief executive of the bureau’s operations in Los Angeles.

There was no response to calls to the phone number or messages sent to the email address listed on the fraudulent mailing.

kate.mather@latimes.com


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