Hollywood Video Signing Customers Up For Magazine Subscriptions Without Permission?

We’ve received two letters claiming that Hollywood video is signing their customers up for magazine subscriptions without their consent. The scam sounds similar to the ones that Best Buy is accused of in their on-going racketeering lawsuit.

I’m currently out of town on a long business trip, and my wife told me about a somewhat disturbing thing that happened.

While I’ve been gone, I started receiving issues of Entertainment Weekly (which neither I nor my wife have any interest in reading). The label had my name on it, so it wasn’t a matter of us getting someone else’s magazine. My wife, who is rather wary of such things, called up EW and asked what was going on. The EW employee with whom she spoke told her that Hollywood Video had run a promotion, where customers received eight free issues of EW. The next logical question, of course, was “what happens after those eight issues?”

My wife was told that unless the customer canceled, they would be billed for a one-year subscription of EW. Now, I had never heard of the promotion, and never would have agreed to receive the free issues in the first place even if they had been offered to me. I don’t know whether this has happened to anybody else, or whether this is an isolated incident, but I thought it might be worth sending in.


Apparently its not an isolated incident because we just received this email from reader Stephen:

My wife recently set up an account at the local Hollywood Video branch. We haven’t had this membership two weeks and today I got what looked like an advertisement from Entertainment Weekly Magazine in the mail. It was a glossy post card that I almost threw away. Instead I read it and noticed that it was a notice about my “subscription” to Entertainment Weekly and it had a Hollywood Video logo on the front of it.

Apparently when my wife signed up for the video rental account they automatically (as in without asking her permission) signed her up for a subscription to Entertainment Weekly. The notice I received said we would be getting 8 free issues and then they would bill our credit card $29.95 under the Automatic Renewal program if she didn’t cancel. I wondered how they would bill a credit card number they didn’t have so I went to the website they pointed me to, http://ww.ew.com/customerservice and logged in with the account number on the post card. Sure enough there was my credit card number and an outstanding balance of $29.95. I quickly canceled my “account” with EW.

I can’t believe Hollywood Video would be so bold as to hand over my credit card number to another company without even asking first. If this isn’t dirty I don’t know what is.

Thought you guys might like to know.


It sounds as if there’s something shady and possibly illegal going on at Hollywood Video.

Has this happened to anyone else? Please tell us about it at tips@consumerist.com. Put “Hollywood Video” in the subject.



Edit Your Comment

  1. The local Best Buy always hounds me with “free” subscriptions to EW and a handful of other magazines and when I decline they get pissy with me.

  2. SaveMeJeebus says:

    Sam Goody did this shit to me a long time ago (and don’t ask me to justify why I was there). I paid using a credit card and got the eight free issues then at the end of the promotion, I was charged $40. Needless to say, I was pissed. I called Entertainment Weekly and I was told the same stuff and that they would refund my money in 6-8 weeks. Then I told them that I hope they enjoy a chargeback because nowhere on the little info card’s fine print did I read about the “silence is acceptance” rule.

    I got curious to see what would happen if I paid with cash after that. I went to a different store that offered free Time magazine issues. I got the issues then I started to get “overdue” notices, “collections” threats, so on so forth. I did not receive a product under false pretenses so I knew I was in the right and that it was just clever marketing techniques.

  3. Techguy1138 says:

    This hasn’t happened at my Hollywood video. Maybe a branch or a clerk is upping it quote illegal like?

    Any word on location?
    I’m in LA county CA

  4. Clarkins says:

    I got a flyer for a free rental and another Hollywood Video coupon in the mail yesterday.
    The store here in Fort Smith has been closed down and vacant for a month.

  5. PsychicPsycho3 says:

    I worked there for a few years… the corporate office tracks everything an employee does on their computer system and managers get int trouble if corporate doesn’t like what they see — consequently, managers will remove the void function key or put ink on it, so they can catch you “red handed.” Moreover, we had to sell these god-damned bundles with movies and candy to people, if they didn’t like your numbers, everyone was in trouble.

    My point is that if this is happening, it’s because employees will lose their jobs if they don’t.

  6. reznicek111 says:

    @ MLEHET: my local Best Buy offers the same hard-sell “free subscription” pitch. When I’ve told the BB cashiers “no” on the 8 free weeks of US or EW or whatever, some have insisted that the “free subscription” is “automatic” (in other words, that I can’t refuse it with my purchase) and all I have to do is cancel after I receive my free 8 issues. H*** with that.

  7. Munsoned says:

    I have a sneaking suspicion that this “sign up offer” is buried deep in the customer service agreement somewhere… Sounds like the OPs are not living up to their end of the agreement, am I right people?! Huh??? Huh???

    /Yes, I’m being sarcastic.

  8. Crymson_77 says:

    @reznicek111: One would think that this is against the law…any lawyers out there that can help clear that up?

  9. winter_in_asia says:

    HV used to be a fantastic company — when it was privately held. The previous owner sold it a few years back for a tidy sum. Ever since it went corporate, it’s been crap. We haven’t been back since.

  10. DreamWalker81 says:

    i work for the company and you can longer be fired for low numbers as long as your ask but they will cut your hours if you have low numbers. I’ve seen this stuff happen before and sometimes it’s even the mangers telling the employees to do it sot he store looks better. in fact in our store the manager made it mandatory to get a play guard on all video game rentals because the store numbers looked good doing that. It’s completely against company policy to do these things without the companies consent. I would call the customer hotline which is 18SPEAKTOUS (1-877-325-2624) let them know what store it happened to and they will investigate it.

  11. DreamWalker81 says:

    sorry i meant the customers consent

  12. somecop says:

    @Techguy1138: I’m the guy from the second email above. I’m in the Atlanta area. Don’t know where the other guy is from.

  13. TechnoDestructo says:

    “nowhere on the little info card’s fine print did I read about the “silence is acceptance” rule.”

    What “info card?” You actually signed up for the “free” magazines?

    “I got curious to see what would happen if I paid with cash after that. I went to a different store that offered free Time magazine issues. I got the issues then I started to get “overdue” notices, “collections” threats, so on so forth.”

    If you paid with cash, how did they know where to send the notices? And you DID get the magazines, or you didn’t?

    This doesn’t make any sense.

  14. warf0x0r says:

    Sounds like they’re going through the growing pains just like BBY. These things are awful values for customers but the profit perspectives for corps are too much for them to resist that the corp will create this ideal mantra of “how could it not be a great deal” and its sold all the way down the chain until it gets the the employee who actually deals with the consumer. The consumer knows its not a good deal and the employee at the bottom is blamed. Someone needs to sit the higher-ups down, tie them to a chair, and punch them in the stomach repeatedly each time saying this isn’t a good deal for the customer.

    Note: This post in no way advocates violence, violence is bad, brawndo is good, drink brawndo.

  15. Dancing Milkcarton says:

    When one wishes that Blockbuster would come to your neighborhood to put the local Hollywood Video out of business, you know that can’t be good.

    Our HV *sucks* – always has, always will.

    They got the new Harry Potter in the other day… 2 shelves worth (~ 20 copies) – that’s it (of course every copy was out). BUT, with every turn through the store you see a huge display of the new Harry Potter movie FOR SALE. I’d say there were roughly 100 for sale and 20 for rent.

    The same for the new Bourne movie as well. They had enough copies for sale to put Wal-Mart to shame – but only 3 shelves of the actual movie.

    Yeah – this isn’t exactly on topic, but I had to vent – it wasn’t the poor guy at the counter’s fault – but he heard about it that night.

    I’m on to ya’, HV, and you lost a customer.

  16. gingerCE says:

    I went to Hollywood Video and noticed they had an old EW on their counter with the cover story being the writer’s strike. I was interested in purchasing the magazine for the article and inquired about. They told me about the free issues promo but I told them I wasn’t interested.

    As far as I know, I’m not signed up for anything.

  17. LilKoko says:

    @gingerCE: Uh-oh! HV sounds desperate. Did you leave a thumbprint anywhere on the counter? ;-)

  18. UpsetPanda says:

    We opened an account about a month ago…I didn’t notice anything being signed up for me, though if i receive a copy of EW I’ll know where it came from.

    This is something that happened (sort of) with Williams Sonoma. I had a gift registry there and they automatically signed me up with a “complimentary” subscription of a Bridal magazine. I got a postcard from WS telling me about this and quickly called to cancel. Bridal magazines are really expensive, yes, but I’d rather just not be saddled with any hidden fees.

  19. KingPsyz says:

    I hate Hollywood Video, they billed me for three movies they had in their store but claimed they couldn’t erase the debt because they had already ordered more copies.

    To which I replied how did you order more copies of out of print movies? And How do you find it belivable to charge me $150 for Godvilla vs. Bambi and $75 for Hardware Wars?

    Because I was desperate to clean up my credit I paid the bill and demanded they sent me my movies I bought. Yeah they never showed up…

  20. iamme99 says:

    I only watch new movies. Used to go to the local HV. But a few months ago I discovered that Safeway had installed a DVD kiosk where I can get the latest releases for 1 evening rental for only $1.49. HV is $3.99, I think. The stores are 2 blocks apart, so it doesn’t take much thought as to where I am going to rent from.

  21. SaveMeJeebus says:

    @TechnoDestructo: Hey I was young and didn’t know any better. For the cash one, I filled out the card too. Mind you this was back in late 90s early 00s. I guess they don’t do that anymore? I haven’t been offered a subscription since then really because I don’t go to Best Buy often enough nor do I really shop in the mall.

  22. Scooterx56 says:

    This doesn’t surprise me as an ex-management for Hollywood Video.

    I know that they can charge your credit card if you do not return a movie. Not sure how legal it is, but when you sign the contract it states that if you do not return a video in 90 days, Hollywood does have the right to charge your card for the videos and late fee’s.

    I was in store management when Playguard stated I could see they where going downhill.

    Most of our customer, I mean guests, knew if they complained to the store manager, the DM, or called the corp number they could get they late fee’s or any fee’s removed from there account(and if you call corp and complain enough, you can get people fired, get your late fee’s taken off and get free video rentals all in one call!!Yes this did happen!)

    We use to call Play guard the “idiot tax” because we knew that only the customers that did not know anything about our store policies would pay the extra 25 cents per rental for the rental insurance, when if they just complained they could get the same insurance for free.

    Most of the management for the district I was in is gone from the stores, off to greener non-video pastures. The few times I have been back, I have never seen the same people working in the stores twice.

    Hollywood has just closed a bunch of stores and throughout the country but are keeping it low key, and I am also under the understanding that they have filed for bankruptcy,

    I have looked for news on the store closing and have found very little information, but I know that it’s happening all around the country. I have come to understand that these are the poor preforming stores, but as history teaches us from other business closings that this is just the first step.

  23. ceriphim says:

    This isn’t something new they just started doing, they’ve been doing it for years. Both Blockbuster and HV are constantly looking for ways to increase revenue at the counter in a way that doesn’t require *them* to provide further support. They’re basically leasing the space to outside companies to get a few extra $$$. (Candy & soda are a perfect example, as with the magazine subscriptions)
    I remember when I was an asst manager at BB years ago they decided we should pitch DirecTV at the tills. Worst idea ever. Who thought that people looking for a $4 movie would also want to throw down $150-400 on a satellite dish service? Not to mention they didn’t train us to actually SELL stuff, just put away movies and help people find them. It’s half-assed planning and implementation like that which leads to employees cutting corners to keep their jobs…

  24. arachnophilia says:

    i worked for hollywood video for two years, plus.

    frankly, i’m surprised they’re still in business. all the local stores around here are closed up, including the one that employed me. apparently movie gallery (which bought hv a few years back) went bankrupt, or something. i dunno, i quit before that.

    what i am not surprised about is the company engaging illegal rackets. i cannot begin to describe my disgust for the company regarding all of their shady business practices. if you guys seriously knew the half of it — this company is rotten to the very core.

  25. kingoftheroad40 says:

    The first letter i say credit card fraud and or larsney
    in regards to collections calls I say harassment .

  26. Protector says:

    Wait…people still rent movies from brick and mortar stores?

  27. jenl1625 says:

    @PsychicPsycho3: If corporate policies are leading directly to employees committing fraud/theft in order to meet quotas, and corporate has made no attempt to prevent employees from committing predictable fraud/theft in order to meet those quotas . . . . To me, that comes very, very close to intentional corporate fraud.

  28. cappy says:

    @CLARKINS: I got the same coupon this week and the Hollywood 2 blocks from us closed last month. I never got any mail from them when they were open. Now the nearest store is 13 miles away. Great marketing.

  29. toddkravos says:

    Lakewood ohio (Cleveland suburb)

    Part of the check out process is to ask you if you want to sign up. Since I rent WII games weekly, I’m hip to their scripts. I walk up to the counter and say “Don’t even ask me about candy or other promotions. I’m not interested. Thanks”

    I got a magazine 2 weeks ago. I called EW to cancel.
    The employees are measured by the number of folks they sign up. I bet rogue employees are tapping the “Y” key this time of year to bump their store’s/personal employee ‘numbers’

    Store is has been shut down for over a month now…..

  30. I remember some time last year being coaxed into signing up for some similar free subscriptions at Best Buy. The cashier blatantly lied when she stated that I would receive a letter to let me know my trial period was up. You better believe at the end of the 8 weeks I was on the phone to the magazine company getting all the charges reversed . . . and crediting out a few “fictional” NSFs for my trouble. They didn’t even blink and I was credited in full inside three business days. This leads me to believe they ended up reimbursing a lot of people for this crap, especially if the customer service level BB employees were being told to lie about a warning letter to make the sale.

  31. OldHVEmployee says:

    Just so you know, in order for a subscription to go through, the employee has to either slide the credit card through or manually type in the number of the credit card. Simply hitting “Y” won’t do the trick. Or at least it shouldn’t because it’ll tell you scan the credit card if you do “hit the Y.”

    It’s possible some employee is scamming the customer.

    Since all subscriptions must have the accompanied card that is signed by the customer and is sent back monthly to corporate, it’s out of the stores hands once that envelope goes back. (That’s only if the store and employee followed the proceedure.)

    As for “not firing people for not making numbers” they are firing people if you don’t make your quota. It’s a weekly ritual to get yelled out for not making numbers and threatened with one’s job. This is not only at the store level, but DM’s as well that are getting fired.

    I grew tired of it. Come December 31, it’s hasta la vista Joe “old cuss who thought online rental was a just a fad” Mauglen and HollyVid.

    I hope Wattles buys the company back. He certainly can’t do any worse of a job than what the MG folks have.

    Don’t get me started on the E4 crap. I’ve yet to have a customer who didn’t know what he or she didn’t want. It’s a bogus customer service venture. It’s like Blockbuster in the 1990s!

  32. toddkravos says:

    in order to rent a Wii game, you have to present a credit card for ‘deposit’ purposes.

    reads: if you don’t bring this back, we’ll ding your credit card.

    since the transaction has a CC, maybe that’s how it happened to me…

  33. Draelren says:

    I work at HV, and I don’t even ask people anymore about the EW thing, I just bypass it by hitting F2 automatically, without asking. We are supposed to, but I just don’t wanna bother, no one really wants it – so why hassle them with it? I may have to quit before I get fired – because I am not following the “E4” ideals for all HV employees.

  34. littlefeat says:

    i’ve worked at hollywood video for one year now. the store i was hired at was shut down, and i fear that the store i am currently at will soon drown with the rest of them.

    i am extremely proud of the store i started at. we followed policies, we excelled in customer service and star treatment! i loved my job!

    one sunday morning, i went into work to open the store and got a call from my manager. he told me our store would be closing down, the company had filed bankruptcy and that we would be closed for a few days the next week. we basically were instructed to turn our location into a previously viewed movie store. we had to manually pull over 4,000 dvds and games from the shelf, put them in boxes, and ship them to corporate. everything left was put up for sale, then discounted steadily until every movie was gone. then we sold the shelves, fixtures, and cash registers until all that was left was the safe. it was much harder to work there while we were closing. at one point, corporate almost literally said “yeah, we’re done with you, you now take your cues from the liquidator until you move to a store that makes actual revenue.” at that point, a representative of a liquidation company ran our store. it was total chaos. the employees in the next round of store closings received i think $1 raise while they were closing the store. my staff did not garner this reward despite having stayed with the company and moving to a location on the other side of town.

    i have to offer the entertainment weeklys and candy, and playguard, and collect balances (or late fees) every day. if the numbers aren’t good, the worst that happens is that i get nagged at. i’m not threatened with my job or anything. i think i may just be really fortunate to have a great manager. the entertainment weekly deal (as with anything we sell) is hard to sell. it’s designed so that you sign up for free issues and then you forget to call and cancel: everyone but you makes money.

    at my store, we hear horror stories like these where employees have come up with some clever way to tell the computer they’ve sold an item. i’ve never heard of someone actually scanning a credit card to do it though! some stores cheat, and it sucks because all the while, my team is coming up with a way for our guests to get free issues of entertainment weekly, and putting them on a list so that before you get charged for the issues (that you knowingly sign up for) we call you and remind you to call and cancel the deal. even when we did that, the damn magazines didn’t sell. but it’s appalling that an employee thinks that no one will catch something like that on their credit card!

    not all of us are trying to scam you. some of us work very very hard to save you money. i understand where people who are afraid of losing their jobs are coming from. we do get a good amount of pressure to make the company money. but that does not justify signing guests up for something they are unaware of! the company’s just not very creative or efficient at coming up with good ideas to save their asses. they think that candy will save us all…they just need to go ahead and look into an online venture…

    anyone have questions for a current employee? just keep in mind that i care about the company i knew when i was hired. i enjoy helping people find good movies and talking about film. it’s my favorite! selling isn’t my favorite…it’s just part of my job.

  35. littlefeat says:

    @Scooterx56: stores with high rent costs and low revenue are closing. the mvp program is killing stores, and movie gallery has filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy. they are now trying to nickel and dime customers and employees until they can pay off their debts or shut down the business.

    they really are desperate at this point. they’re doing strange things like cutting labor back, restricting the building until 9:30am, giving us only 30 minutes to prepare a store for open…giving us only 30 minutes to close a store. it’s getting ridiculous. it kills me that no one making the rules has ever had to work a day in their lives at the store level. anyway….yes on bankruptcy…

    ps. “idiot tax” is so perfect. i might have to use that…


    To Todd Kravos:

    Not all stores required the CC to rent a game. It’s probably a case of where there is a high rate of non-returns on the games that prompted the decision. When you signed up for you account, on the bottom of the application it says that by giving your credit card number, you have authorized them to charge you for the game/movie etc. It also states this on the receipt, if I’m not mistaken. It’s perfectly, legal by the way.

    Technically speaking, not returning an item is the same thing as theft. I know that in the past, Blockbuster has persued criminal charges against customers for not returning items. Even sending summons out via the police to get you to return the item. (In this case, it was usually the non-corporate stores that did this.)

    MG/HV are shuttering another 400 stores, including my old store (though, we had known for several months, aside from assurances that it wasn’t going to happen from Corp that after the first year, we’d be closing down).

    Back to Playguard: It definitely is the “idiot tax.” I suspect that if they hadn’t gotten the whistle blowed on them about not giving the money to Starlight, they probably would have pocketed the money.

    There is one store in my area that is scamming the system by putting the “idiot tax” on people’s rental purchases and Corp turns a blind eye. Instead, it turns into a “why can’t you sell 100 in a day?” It’s called not scamming the customers out their quarter. It’s also called “honesty.” Why sell something to a customer when only 2.5 cents goes the actual charity. It’s bogus.

    They’ve also scaled back on the MVP because the companay now realizes that it was a bad idea.

    In other bankruptcy news, stores that are closing down, the employees are getting a $1pay raise to help with the closing of their home store. I’m looking forward to that. But in the end, I lose my helath insurance, so I’m screwed (again). Really sucks.


    Little Feat: You can find a list of store closings here [www.kccllc.net]

  38. littlefeat says:

    @OLDHVEMPLOYEE: how did you come by this?

  39. OldHVEmployee says:

    It’s part of the reorganization of the company. KCCLIC is the company handling it. All of the information is part of the disclosure laws. If you’re store was closing, you would have received information already about it.

  40. patgillen says:

    I never signed up for ET and I get it regularly. We never read it. I haven’t noticed a charge on my card, but I’m going back to check now! I guess I figured it was an accident!

  41. OldHVEmployee says:

    Hollywood Video/Movie Gallery aren’t the only company doing the EW thing. Best Buy and Office Depot did it, and I’m fairly certain other places such as FYE and Circuit City might have done this at one time. I don’t know about their procedures. But I can pretty much guarantee you that the only WAY for someone to get signed up at a HV/MG with EW is if the employee slid the CC through the scanner. If he/she did that that didn’t fill out the paperwork, then you probably got them on fraud.