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Law enforcement probes White City firm

Local investigations into White City companies that sent bogus newspaper bills around the country have so far uncovered nothing that rises to the level of being illegal, but officials warn consumers to be wary of being duped.

“Our detectives looked into it, and they contacted the postmaster,” Jackson County sheriff's Lt. Marty Clark said. “The postmaster said it’s possibly a civil issue.”

Clark said the Oregon Department of Justice and the attorney generals in both California and Oregon are looking into the businesses' operations.

The Oregon Attorney General’s Office has a pending investigation and has received at least 595 complaints involving various White City companies, known by more than 40 different names, including Publishers Payment Processing, Publishers Billing Association, Readers Payment Service and Liberty Publishers Service. Multiple addresses for the businesses are listed, mostly in White City or Medford, but they are post office boxes or mail services.

The complaints center on invoices sent to newspaper customers asking them to pay their bill. Written in fine print, the bill discloses that a fee of about 20 percent is charged. However, the company sending out the bills has no agreement with the newspapers to handle subscriptions.

The White City companies do pay the subscription bill but pocket the 20 percent processing fee. Many newspapers across the country have announced they have nothing to do with these companies and warn their customers not to pay the bogus bill.

The Better Business Bureau, which represents Alaska, western Washington and Oregon, has received 863 complaints from across the nation over the past three years, with 266 in the past 12 months alone.

No publications in Oregon appeared to have been affected.

Laura J. Lovrien, a 37-year-old Eagle Point woman, is listed as the president of various businesses involved with the White City companies, according to the Oregon Secretary of State's Office. Repeated attempts to reach Lovrien for comment have been unsuccessful.

Clark said the sheriff's office has received complaints from around the country from people who believe they have been scammed.

“There are so many jurisdictions and states involved, that it’s not something we’ve been able to sink our teeth into,” he said. “If we had victims in Oregon, it would be a different story.”

Clark said he’s received about three complaints on a Facebook page and another three on a law enforcement website.

While his investigations haven’t discovered anything illegal, Clark said, he hopes some other law enforcement agency will continue to look into the situation.

“It’s frustrating on our end,” Clark said. “The more light that’s shined on it, the better.”

Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert said she receives a couple of complaints a month about the White City company.

“I get letters from people all over the country,” she said. “How do you really prosecute if your victim is in Chicago?”

She said the invoices have disclaimers in tiny print describing how the company charges a service fee for handling the subscription.

If the company took the money and didn’t pay the subscription, then it could be a case of fraud, Heckert said.

“They’re misleading, but not the same as fraud,” she said. “A lot of things are deceptive practices where someone is taking advantage of someone else, but it’s not necessarily a crime.”

In California, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris issued a press release in October warning the public about what she referred to as a “scam.”

Harris said Californians have received deceptive mailings that claim to be bills, invoices or renewal notices for newspaper subscriptions.

“The mailings may appear to be legitimate renewal notices from a local newspaper, but they are most likely a scam and should be ignored and reported,” she stated.

Seniors are often the targets of these types of scams, Harris said.

Harris said she recommends consumers who receive a deceptive renewal notice should file a complaint with their newspaper. They can also file a complaint with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at http://ehome.uspis.gov/fcsexternal/default.aspx and with the Federal Trade Commission at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/.

Oregonians can call this state’s Attorney General's Office to file a complaint at 1-877-877-9392 or file a complaint online at https://justice.oregon.gov/forms/consumer_complaint.asp.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow on Twitter at @reporterdm.