Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Comic-book ad scams of the 1980s: Mailing List Protection Agent

It's not that long since we finished up the 11-part Summer Comics Nostalgia series, but I can't resist diving back into old comics and their vintage advertisements. They're just too cool, even when they're perhaps fraudulent. (Or maybe because of that.) The full-page advertisement shown above is from the June 1984 issue of Marvel's "The Thing."1

The advertisement probably has more words, in tiny type, than the entire story within the pages of the comic book.2 (By my very rough estimate, there are about 1,500 words there.) The headline entices you with:

Make Up TO $275.00 or More
Extra Per Week As A

And to earn that kind of money — $275 a week then was the equivalent of a spiffy $632 a week today — all you had to do was mail $25 (the equivalent of $57) to Miami, Florida. Sounds too good to be true, right? Right??

Here are some excerpts from the long-winded advertisement:

  • This fabulous way for you to make money takes very little time and virtually no effort. ... What could be better?
  • We are the U.S. LIST PROTECTION COMPANY and we protect mailing list owners from having their valuable list of customers stolen or used without authorization. ... This is a very important service for a mailing list owner to have. He has to protect his mailing list because in many cases, it cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars to compile. If a mailing list was stolen and left undetected, it could very well put the list owner out of business.
  • You, as a Mailing List Protection Agent will have your address and a code name used as a decoy. For example, if your name is Robert Smith, you may give yourself the code name of James Smith.3
  • When your package of coded dated mail arrives at our office, we will count the number of pieces of mail in the package and send you a check the same day ... a payment of 30¢ for each coded dated piece of mail.
  • Examples: Suppose various packages contained the following quantities of coded dated mail on different occasions. ... Group Three contains 917 pieces in the package you forwarded us — WE PAY YOU $275.10 plus the postage money you spent to send us the package!
  • In order to get officially registered as a Mailing Protection Agent, you must pay a one time fee as indicated on the LIFETIME REGISTRATION CERTIFICATE. This fee covers all the computer costs of getting your code name and address integrated into the system.4
  • The amount of openings we have for Mailing List Security Agents is severely limited.
  • P.S. Please do not request that we register you without payment and later deduct it from your first check. We do not operate in such a manner because there are too many people willing to pay in advance.

So, to summarize: You have to pay $25 up front. You might never be used as an official agent. To score $275 in a week, you'd have to process and return a mere 917 pieces of mail. BUT YOU GET TO HAVE A COOL CODE NAME, DUDE!

If you haven't already picked this scam apart, consumer advocate David Horowitz completed the job in this excerpt from his column, which appeared in the March 2, 1984, issue of The Cincinnati Enquirer:
"Be a work-at-home 'mailing list protection agent'? In fact, that part of the ad is not as strange as it sounds. There really are such people. When a direct-mail advertiser rents a mailing list, it's good for one mailing. If the advertiser uses it more than once without paying the listing company for it, the advertiser is misappropriating that list of names. To guard against that, every mailing list contains a number of coded names and addresses of people who have agreed to act as 'list protection agents.' Whenever advertising mail arrives at those addresses, the agents return it to the listing companies. By checking the code names, the owner of those lists can tell which advertisers are using them, and for which mass mailings. The ad in question said that it will register applicants to be list protection agents for only $25. What makes this offer suspect is that there seems to be no such demand for agents. The Direct Marketing Association in New York told me it knows of only two companies in the country that provide this kind of mailing list protection. Each of those companies employs only 30 or 40 such agents nationwide, and there already are hundreds of volunteers on waiting lists for the next available openings. So save your money on any offer like this, one that you can't check out personally. Also, when in doubt, call your local Postal Inspector's office and see if they can give you any information on questionable mail-order outfits."
So there you have it. Heed Horowitz's advice. Save your favorite code name for a more legitimate adventure. And never send $25 to a company that's advertising in a magazine that features Dr. Doom.

1. Volume 1, No. 12. It's titled "Doomworld" on the front. The cover price was 60 cents. It was written by John Byrne.
2. Among the words in this particular comic book: "Hold, Demonspawn! Touch not the fallen female, or feel my fury!" Also: "Yeow!"
3. This would make you very boring. If you're going to fall for a scam, you might as well use a code name like Thumper McDandy.
4. It seems reasonable. That could easily be 30 to 45 seconds worth of keyboard data entry. Your address isn't going to type itself into the computer by magic.

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