The Federal Trade Commission and the Florida Attorney General's Office entered into a settlement with Inmate Magazine Service, resolving allegations that the company charged prisoners and their families for magazine subscriptions that either showed up late or not at all.  

In March, the FTC and the Florida Attorney General sued Inmate Magazine Service (and related entities), alleging that the company marketed magazine subscriptions to prisoners and their families with false claims that the subscriptions will begin within 120 days.  Saying that the "stark reality is that many consumers simply do not get what they pay for," they charged that consumers don't, in fact, get their magazines, or if they do, they don't arrive when promised.  The regulators also alleged that the company unlawfully refused to provide refunds when magazines weren't delivered as promised.  These problems were magnified, they said, by the inadequate customer service provided by the company -- including a company policy that limits consumers to only one customer service request every 30 days. 

The FTC and the Florida AG charged that the company's actions violated federal and state law, including the FTC's Mail Order Rule.  The Mail Order Rule prohibits marketers who take orders over the internet (or by mail or phone) from making representations about when a product will be shipped unless the marketer has a "reasonable basis" for doing so.  In addition, the Mail Order Rule has detailed requirements that marketers must follow if they can't deliver when promised, which include providing consumers with prompt notice, an opportunity to cancel, and a prompt refund.  (Here's a recent post about Mail Order Rule requirements.)  

The FTC and Florida AG's settlement with Inmate Magazine Service permanently bans the company from selling magazine subscriptions in the future and includes a $2,200,000 judgment (which was partially suspended due to an inability to pay).  The settlement also prohibits the company from violating the Mail Order Rule in the future. 

What are some important take-aways from this action?  First, with people buying even more online these days, the FTC continues to take a greater interest in Mail Order Rule enforcement.  For example, last year, the FTC entered into a record $9.3 million dollar settlement over alleged Mail Order Rule violations.  Second, the FTC has -- at least historically -- put significant resources into protecting more vulnerable populations, such as prisoners and their families.  For example, last year, the FTC sued a telecommunications company over its marketing of phone plans to prisoners and their loved ones.  And, notwithstanding FTC Chair Lina Khan's new priorities for the agency, it does appear that the FTC is continuing to pursue these types of enforcement actions.  As Samuel Levine, the Director of the  FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said, "The FTC is committed to halting consumer abuses against incarcerated individuals and their families.  Like all Americans, incarcerated individuals and their families deserve to get what they paid for, and get it when it was promised.”