Guidelines Against Subscriber List Fraud Draw Cheers

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List professionals with high-profile publishing clients applauded the release of two sets of guidelines for ensuring subscriber list security and fraud prevention.

Citing subscription fraud as a challenge to the list and publishing industries, Direct Media Inc. issued a policy Jan. 14 regarding its internal measures to protect clients' subscriber lists. Direct Media manages files from publishers such as Hearst and Primedia.

The announcement came a month after the trade group Magazine Publishers of America released a white paper, "Considerations and Suggestions for the Magazine Industry on List Security." The MPA assembled an industry task force on list security in July after an unauthorized 1.6 million-name magazine subscriber file was put on the market by Magazine Subscribers Network of America, a subscription sub-agent.

"On the heels of the MPA white paper, we thought it was a good time to let everybody know that we're serious about this," said Georganne Rossi, vice president of list management at Direct Media, Greenwich, CT. "It's not a new issue, and we have been doing these things all along but we wanted to give it the attention it deserves."

Rossi, an MPA member, is the company's point person on subscription fraud issues.

Though the policy is specific to publishing files, she said that Direct Media is vigilant about all the files it handles.

"This issue has specifically plagued publishers because the fraudulently obtained names are used to renew subscribers," she said.

Others in the list industry said they supported the guidelines set forth by both organizations but that they had always taken similar measures of their own.

"This is something that the larger list companies that specialize in the publishing industry have been doing for quite some time," said Stephen Perkins, account manager at Millard Group Inc., Peterborough, NH. Perkins manages the Conde Nast list properties at Millard, which also handles files from Time Inc., Rodale and G+J USA.

Rossi said she did think that most list companies followed similar guidelines.

Another list professional said it was good business and common sense to protect all list files.

"I think it's a great policy that Direct Media is instituting, and we follow the same type of guidelines," said Laura Smith, vice president and director of list management at RMI Direct Marketing Inc., Danbury, CT. RMI handles subscriber files such as Consumer Union's Consumer Reports and Belvoir Publications' magazines.

"Magazines have an awful lot to lose if an unauthorized agent tries to renew their subscribers," Smith said.

Among the MPA's recommendations: the necessity for written contractual agreements with those accessing subscriber files; physical security for data; monitoring of usage requests and orders; and active decoying or seeding of lists.

Direct Media said it supports the MPA recommendations. In its own policy, it also mandated that its employees sign confidentiality, privacy and security agreements. Direct Media will maintain a database of individuals and companies suspected or involved in list abuse. All subscription list orders are subject to the regular approval process, plus additional measures. They include checking orders against the database of possible violators, checking the Web site of prospective renters and checking new mailers out with others in the industry.

Direct Media also created a list of warning signs such as mailers using several brokers in a short time, mailers renting broad list types with no pattern, orders shipping to a residential address, large test orders, and samples with inactive or incorrect telephone numbers.

Other list firms also maintain watch lists, monitor warning signs and flag suspicious orders. Perkins mentioned catalogers using only publishing files as a red flag. Smith cited new mailers quickly offering to prepay as suspicious.

Though list professionals can't accuse a mailer, they can encourage their list owners to refuse suspicious orders. A list owner can decline a rental order for any reason.

"We as list managers are designated to make money for our clients," Rossi said, "but our job is also to protect their lists."


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