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Inmate Magazine Service Advertising Results in FTC Complaint

IMS and are owned by Roy Snowdon, and all three of them were named as defendants. The complaint filed on February 26, 2021, alleged that the “Defendants advertise an illusionary promise that consumers will receive magazine subscriptions within 120 days. The stark reality is that many consumers simply do not get what they pay for. Consumers do not receive their magazines, and if they do, the timeframe far exceeds Defendants’ promise of 120 days.”

In the face of complaints about its services, IMS has a policy of only allowing one customer service complaint per month. Consumers trying to contact IMS via phone were either disconnected or unable to reach a live person. IMS told the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (ACS) that its system did not handle voice mail messages. Yet, IMS told the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to post its number on its website for delivery of issues and “prompt personal customer care.”

Consumers who paid IMS for its services filed complaints with the BBB of Northwest Florida, Florida’s Attorney General, ACS, and the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) over the three years before the complaint was filed. In response to one of the 560 complaints the BBB received, it sent a letter to IMS.

IMS responded the problem was due to “a database crash that affected thousands of orders” and assured the BBB that the problem would be resolved. IMS’s “assurances were either illusory or short-lived,” the complaint alleged.

There was no way for consumers to have their orders verified, and IMS admitted to the BBB that it could not verify delivery of the first issue, which is contrary to its promise to customer that in addition to offering attractive magazine prices that it would assure delivery of the first issue. Additionally, IMS had a policy of not issuing refunds. Instead, it offered “free” or alternate magazines that consumers rarely received.

The complaint alleged IMS has failed to change its practices and continues to harm consumers. IMS’s actions resulted in HRDC, publisher of Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News discontinuing advertisements in its publications over two years ago. Before then, it was a long-time advertiser.

“In each year from 2017 through 2020, the Human Rights Defense Center contacted Snowden concerning advertisement complaints from consumers,” the complaint said. “As an owner of multiple entities in the operation, seated at the helm of the enterprise, Snowden had authority to control the entities and to curtail their unlawful practices, but has not done so.”

The complaint requested the court to grant relief to immediately protect consumers, including the freezing of assets, turning over of business records, and the appointment of a receiver. It also sought restitution and disgorgement of ill-gotten monies. PLN will report future developments in this case. See: Federal Trade Commission v. Inmate Magazine Service, USDC N.D. Florida, Case no. 3:21-cv-294. 

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Related legal case

Federal Trade Commission v. Inmate Magazine Service