Want a Full Refund on Your NewspaperArchive.com Subscription? Just Ask About Their Charity.

Want a Full Refund on Your NewspaperArchive.com Subscription? Just Ask About Their Charity.

by Kerry Scott on 2 May 2014

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In five-and-a-half years of blogging, this is by far the least fun I’ve ever had writing a post. Read the whole thing, though, because some of this you’ve probably heard about…but some of it is likely brand new information, and it’s kind of icky.

I’ve been a NewspaperArchive.com customer for years. I love doing newspaper research, and their collection includes a county in southern Minnesota where I have deep roots. In fact, longtime readers of this blog may recall that I was an affiliate for them for some time.

I last purchased a one-year subscription in February 2013, for $71.88 (although I was actually charged $95.88, which is going to be important in a few paragraphs). Not long after that, I began to hear rumblings in the online genealogy community that people were having their subscriptions auto-renewed at a rate of $99.95 for six months. That’s more than double what I’d paid, and like most folks I know, I wasn’t too happy about the dramatic price increase, especially when there was absolutely no notice. I considered keeping the subscription anyway, but realized that that price was simply beyond my budget. I could get a whole lot of newspapers on microfilm for $200/year.

I track my genealogy subscription expiration dates, so when February rolled around again, I knew that this one was about to expire. I had emailed them at the time I subscribed last year, saying that I didn’t want to auto-renew. I also gave them a credit card that had expired last summer, so they couldn’t “accidentally” auto-renew me anyway. I logged on in mid-February to confirm that they only had an expired credit card, so they couldn’t charge me.

On 21 February, I received an email from NewspaperArchive.com, saying that they couldn’t renew my subscription because my credit card had expired. I made a note of the fact that they’d even tried it, since I told them I didn’t want it renewed, but since their effort had failed I didn’t worry about it. It’s worth noting, though, that I never received anything at all from them telling me that (a) my subscription was renewing or (b) that they’d more than doubled the price I’d originally agreed to.

On 17 March I reviewed my credit card statement. I noticed that on 24 February (three days after they’d emailed me), I was charged $105.95 by NewspaperArchive.com. I emailed them, pointed out that I had requested non-auto-renewal, and asked them to reverse the charge.

If you guessed that they snottily pointed me to their terms of service, you guessed right. In fairness, the Terms of Service DO say, repeatedly, that they do not give refunds, ever (I don’t know when they added all of that, but I didn’t get an email about it). They also say that you’re responsible for keeping your credit card information current and that you’re still on the hook if you don’t (so if you’re using a temporary, single-use card as outlined in this post, you’re violating their Terms and you still owe the money). What they don’t say is that they will type in new expiration dates themselves until they get one that sticks, and then charge you anyway. They also say that you can notify them that you don’t want to auto-renew, and I did.

After days of back-and-forth emails in which I pointed out repeatedly that I HAD notified them not to auto-renew me, they offered me a 75% refund. By then, though, I had already noticed something very interesting.

The price of a subscription was listed on their website as $99.95. They’d charged me $105.95. Why the discrepancy?

Then I remembered what had happened last year. I thought I was buying a one-year membership last year for $71.88. They’d charged me for $95.88. I’d emailed them and asked about the difference, but received no reply. I did some digging back then, and saw that when you sign up for a NewspaperArchive.com membership, there’s an ad for a charity at the bottom. If you look very closely at that ad, you’ll see that they’ve auto-checked a box for you, giving your consent to a donation to a charity called GlobalWayMakers.org. You have to notice the ad, review it carefully, and uncheck the box (and then you’ll have to uncheck another box too). I didn’t look very closely at it, because it was an ad unrelated to what I was buying, and because I’ve never heard of anyone auto-adding a charitable donation to your subscription. I debated fighting them on it, but I figured it was my bad since I didn’t inspect every single pixel, and I wasn’t auto-renewing anyway, so whatever.

So, the $24 extra I’d paid in 2013 was for a donation to GlobalWayMakers.org. Presumably, the extra $6 they’d charged me this year was for the same charity (although I can’t be sure, because although I asked repeatedly, they refused to tell me what it was for).

So who is GlobalWayMakers.org?

I took a look at their website. It does say that Christopher and Debora Gill are two of the three members of the board of directors. I knew those names were connected to NewspaperArchive.com, although it’s unclear what their roles are; that information seems to have disappeared from the company’s “About Us” page. On this consumer complaint page from 2012, Debora Gill self-identified as the “owner” of NewspaperArchive.com. However, the GlobalWayMakers.org website doesn’t specifically mention any connection to NewspaperArchive.com.

Fortunately, the Wayback Machine does. In October 2009, the main page for GlobalWayMakers.org said that the charity was “a nonprofit 501(c)3 humanitarian and philanthropic expression of NewspaperArchive.com” run by Christopher and Debora Gill. By March 2010, the reference to NewspaperArchive.com had been removed. It’s been gone ever since.

That might lead you to believe that these two entities are no longer connected, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. You can review the IRS 990 forms for any charity at GuideStar.org (you’ll need to register, but it’s free, and these are public records that are meant to be accessible to donors and others). Global Way Makers is listed as a Catholic [now listed as Protestant---see the comments section below for details] charity located at 855 Wright Brothers Boulevard Southwest in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. If you search that address on the internet, you’ll find that it’s also the headquarters for NewspaperArchive.com. The Form 990s are listed for 2006, 2007 and 2012. Each of them lists Debora Leitner as the Executive Director. A quick Google search indicated that it’s likely that this is actually Debora Gill. (Note: I know from being in HR that there are many women whose legal name is different from the one they share with a spouse, so no knock there. Also, many charities have an outside firm do their tax stuff, and it looks like this one did too. They probably just had outdated info in their records.)

The Form 990 for 2006 indicates that Global Way Makers brought in $13,500 that year. In 2007, they brought in $500. In 2012, they raked in $198,189. Clearly that automatically-checked-checkbox-in-the-ad thing is working out well for them.

I started to wonder just what this “humanitarian and philanthropic expression of NewspaperArchive.com” does with the money. GuideStar.org doesn’t have an impact statement for them, but not all charities submit that. The GlobalWayMakers.org website says that they address human trafficking, microbusinesses and scholarships, orphanages, and poverty. Those are all great goals, but as a donor (a unwitting donor who became a donor by automatically being opted in via a checkbox hidden in a graphic, but still), I’d like to know exactly where my money went. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an annual report or any other document that answers that question.

I was also curious about how all of this works with NewspaperArchive.com’s Terms of Service. They say in many places that there are no refunds, that you’d be auto-billed, that you’d better pay up, etc. However, there’s not a word about Global Way Makers, even though your (auto opt-in) donation is billed in the same transaction as your subscription (and in my case, my auto opt-in donation was made as result of their changing the expiration date on my credit card without permission). That seems…not cool. I haven’t heard of any charity operating that way, and I wonder whether the charities Global Way Makers says they work with are okay receiving money that’s been obtained like this.

During the five days I spend corresponding with NewspaperArchive.com about my subscription renewal, I asked many of these questions, repeatedly. I asked whether Global Way Makers was connected to NewspaperArchive.com, and how. I asked whether Debora Gill and Debora Leitner were the same person. I asked why there was no mention of the charity in the Terms of Service. After asking repeatedly, I got silence for a couple of days (which is odd, because they were very responsive when they were telling me about the NO REFUNDS EVER policy). Then I got an email from a person who refused to give his/her name, saying that I’d be receiving a refund of the full $105.95 and that my NewspaperArchive.com account was being canceled. It was, within minutes. I received the refund a couple of days later.

It’s been six weeks, and I’ve been debating whether to post about this. I also hoped that after I’d repeatedly raised these questions, they’d revise the Terms of Service to address this, clarify the relationship between the two entities on their websites, and/or uncheck the auto-donate box so people can opt in instead of opting out. So far, they haven’t.

I’m not a company basher. In fact, I routinely take crap for objecting to the recreational company-bashing we sometimes see in this community. I’ve had a long, reasonably happy relationship with NewspaperArchive.com, and I got my money back in the end. They certainly have the right to make up draconian Terms of Service and more than double their rates (although it would be nice if they informed customers of those things). They probably even have the legal right to tamper with my credit card expiration date until they get some money out of me. It turns out that there are other companies that do this, although I certainly don’t want to do business with people like that.

But the charity thing…that’s just not cool. They might be doing great things at Global Way Makers, but this just isn’t an appropriate means of financing your whole change-the-world thing. If you want to raise money, do it the right way. This ain’t it. Be transparent.

June 2014 Update: The local newspaper in Cedar Rapids has reported that NewspaperArchive.com is now under state review. Click here to read the story

 

Photo by Michael Theis

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{ 188 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan Clark May 2, 2014 at 5:36 pm

Thank you. This is purely sleezey, though that may not be the best way of phrasing that. Supremely sleezey? Crawl back under a rock sleezey.

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Kerry Scott May 2, 2014 at 5:45 pm

I sincerely hope it’s just a whole bunch of cluefreeness, rather than sleaze. Sometimes people just don’t think before they do stuff. But they need to fix it.

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Susan Clark May 2, 2014 at 6:44 pm

You are kinder than I. And a better speller.

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Patricia May 2, 2014 at 5:58 pm

The point that really disturbed me was the changing of your credit card’s expiration date. That seems almost criminal to me especially when you had notified them that you did not wish to renew and then was renewed anyway.

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Kerry Scott May 2, 2014 at 6:01 pm

I did not care for that either. However, to be clear: My preliminary research (i.e. a few minutes on Google and Consumerist.com) indicates that this probably IS legal. I think it’s a terrible, we-hate-customers business practice, which is why I want to make sure people are aware of it…but I do not believe it’s illegal.

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Louise May 3, 2014 at 9:53 am

I have a small mail order nursery where people often reserve plants 6 months ahead or more, and I don’t charge credit cards until I ship the plants. If I can’t get a hold of the customer after a few tries who has given me a credit card number that has now, after 6 months, expired, I know to try a new year, and what will work. I have been told this is legal. This, however, is not the same as charging you for something you didn’t order by trying different dates. If you hadn’t gotten a refund from the, a call to your credit card company would have taken care of it since you presumably had the emails where you cancelled your subscription.

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Kerry Scott May 3, 2014 at 10:03 am

I agree that the credit card company would have taken care of it. I didn’t get that far, because while I was filling out the form to dispute a charge, I noticed the discrepancy between the amount they’d charged me and the listed price of a subscription. That led me to look into the charity, which led me to email them questions, which led to an immediate refund. But for others in this situation, I’d definitely recommend going through the credit card company’s dispute resolution process, because if you can show that you canceled, I’d expect that to be kind of a slam dunk.

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Julie Goucher May 2, 2014 at 6:01 pm

What a sad turn of events. Very dubious business practice & the charity issue is questionable. Not transparent. Glad you got your money back, but I feel that you did so so they could controls the damage limitation.

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Kerry Scott May 2, 2014 at 6:02 pm

That’s why I waited to write the post. After asking questions and not getting a response, I flat-out told them I’d be writing about it. I hoped they’d quickly fix it. I’m disappointed that they didn’t.

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Oxa May 2, 2014 at 6:02 pm

http://globalwaymakers.org/node/20
Hmm… Debora Gill is supposedly an ordained minister. Wonder if she has some sort of cognitive impairment that has made her forget the commandments.

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Kerry Scott May 2, 2014 at 6:08 pm

I don’t care to speculate about anybody’s cognitive impairments or their behavior as it relates to their religion (seriously, that is WAY not my cup of tea). I just want them to clean up their act.

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Oxa May 2, 2014 at 6:10 pm

Well, what you’ve described seems to be a breaking of several commandments, which if they’d been followed, would not have resulted in the problems you had.

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Oxa May 2, 2014 at 6:06 pm

Oh, just discovered that NewspaperArchive.com has an F rating from the Better Business Bureau:
http://www.bbb.org/iowa/business-reviews/online-publications/newspaper-archive-in-cedar-rapids-ia-32006934#reasonrating

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Kerry Scott May 2, 2014 at 6:10 pm

Wow, that’s a LOT of complaints for a company this size.

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Kerry Scott May 2, 2014 at 6:14 pm

Also, I recognize the canned “you’re screwed, you fell for it” response to the folks who were auto-renewed. It’s the same one I got. If you’re going to have a canned “you’re screwed, you fell for it” response for every customer, at least make sure it’s grammatically correct, uses complete sentences, etc.

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Oxa May 2, 2014 at 6:16 pm

Yeah, the ungrammatical canned response is pretty funny.

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Fran May 2, 2014 at 6:08 pm

When something like this happens I think it is important to report it back to the community. Transparency is something more businesses should apply to their business practices. At work (not genealogy) we are doing a free delivery for orders over $25 in May. We have outstanding special orders made in April that will be delivered in May so we have organised the discounts/refund for those customers too. Totally not required. Outside our terms. Not requested by customers. $ straight out of our pockets. So many reasons why we do not have to do this. We just like to treat our customers like we would like to be treated.

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Carol May 2, 2014 at 6:21 pm

You are much more charitable than I. Having to uncheck a box in an ad rather than in the subscription form seems deceptive at best, and criminal at worst. Evidently you are kinder than I, as I would have reported this to the IRS, the Iowa Attorney General, my own state’s Attorney General, and the FTC. “Charities” who get their funding in this manner, generally use most of the funds for salaries and compensation for their officers and give little or nothing to the people who need it.

Way too easy on them, Kerry. What they’re doing is not right, no matter how good the reason and someone should make them STOP.

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Kerry Scott May 2, 2014 at 6:35 pm

I think sunlight is the best disinfectant. I’ve seen tons of complaints about their billing practices, but the fact is, they have the right to be jerks about billing. We can respond by not doing business with them. That’s capitalism.

But I haven’t seen anything about the charity, and I hope and expect that’s because there’s a lack of awareness (both inside and outside the company) as to how this is working. I hope and expect that calling attention to it will get them to solve the problem. If not, then individual consumers who have been affected can decide how they want to respond (I don’t have standing to do much, since I got my money back).

I always think that the first thing to do is to contact the company privately when you have an issue. I did, repeatedly, before I wrote this post. I think the next step is sunlight, and that’s what this post is for. THEN you contact outside authorities…but I do believe that companies should have the opportunity to correct the issue before it gets to that point.

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dp May 2, 2014 at 10:27 pm

That is totally, utterly wrong and stupid. They can’t just make up terms of service that violate state laws (which most states have.)

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Polly Kimmitt May 2, 2014 at 6:26 pm

Kerry, I remember reading about this last year. It’s all very amazing to me and I want to thank you. You’ve done the genealogical community a service by bringing it out into the open, and not in a mean way. Classy.

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Kerry Scott May 2, 2014 at 6:46 pm

Thank you.

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Susan Fassbender May 2, 2014 at 6:32 pm

Wonderfully written. I was lucky and was able to cancel with no issues. Butt you state very clearly my feelings. The sad thing for me as a long time subscriber, who so enjoyed access to Wisconsin papers the loss. Hate their greed.

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Kerry Scott May 2, 2014 at 6:36 pm

That’s the real bummer. I need access to what they have, and I would have much preferred to continue as a subscriber.

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Paul R. Smith May 2, 2014 at 8:51 pm

Kerry, if you still want access, there is another way and it doesn’t involve going through them. President Hayes Library includes off-site access to NewspaperArchive if you join at the $45 membership level. You also get off-site access to Archives.com and HeritageQuest. I already have free access to HeritageQuest two other ways and find Archives.com less useful after Ancestry acquired it. I checked with the library before joining to make sure I could access it off-site as I live several states away so visiting the library wasn’t an option.

http://www.rbhayes.org/hayes/joinmember/

Join at the $45 or more level and also receive:

• Free at-home access to the online genealogical database HeritageQuest.
NOTE: Access is via the Center’s website using your MEMBER login and password.
• Free at-home access to Newspaper Archives – “The world’s largest online newspaper archive.” Featuring billions of articles from newspapers hundreds of years old and from around the U.S. and the world.
• Free at-home access to the online genealogical database http://www.Archives.com
NOTE: You will be issued a unique username and password to access this database.

Please allow FIVE business days after your membership purchase for our staff to issue your “Archives.com” username and password. * Remember we are not open on Mondays.

- – - -

If you don’ t use NewspaperArchive that much, you can get one free page view/day using your Facebook log-in. Used to be 10 free/day for a long time.

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Kerry Scott May 2, 2014 at 8:56 pm

This is interesting. I had been hearing that they were not renewing these types of memberships with societies. Additionally, a Facebook friend posted this link, which talks about all the drama related to their relationships with libraries. It did not leave me optimistic about the future of such arrangements.

I wish I could figure out what their strategy is. I thought maybe they were throwing away individual customers so they could go after the library market, but the article I mentioned makes it sounds like they’re not treating libraries any better than consumers. If you light ALL of your customers on fire, how exactly do you plan to make money?

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Oxa May 3, 2014 at 7:22 am

NewspaperArchive.com used to be the source for Ancestry’s newspapers. If Ancestry switched to another source when it opened Newspapers.com, the loss of the Ancestry contract would explain NA jacking up its prices (although not its abysmal behavior toward customers). Perhaps the individual market is more lucrative than the commercial market, hence the shunning of libraries and societies.

Kerry Scott May 3, 2014 at 8:34 am

That may be. But will they be able to hold on to the individual market at $200/year? Even if they had excellent service and no shady practices, I’d be very unlikely to renew at that rate. It’s way out of whack relative to its competitors. In fact, I don’t think I’m paying that much for Ancestry.com, even after their recent price increase. Then, when you factor in the customer service…nope.

It’s a fascinating strategy. I would love to know what the hell is going on at this company. I don’t want to see any genealogy company fold, but this one seems determined to do so.

Jana Last May 2, 2014 at 6:50 pm

Wow! Glad you got your money back. You know what they say about the squeaky wheel. Maybe more wheels need to squeak so they’ll change their business practices.

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Leslie Glennie May 2, 2014 at 7:00 pm

I found this very interesting. Doesn’t the word “coercion” seem evident here? Aren’t there laws against coercion??

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Kerry Scott May 2, 2014 at 7:11 pm

I think that would apply if they’d extracted the money by threatening me with a baseball bat or something. An auto opt-in click box is really shady, but I have zero doubt that it’s legal.

I am not arguing that anything they’ve done is illegal. I just think it’s really distasteful, and I want them to go back to being a company I can do business with and recommend to others.

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Debbie May 2, 2014 at 7:30 pm

I just checked my billing statement from their website, and my billing has been 2008 for $71.88 12 months,(then I skipped for a few years) 2011 $71.88 for 12 months, 2012 $119.88 for 12 months, 2013 $119.88 for 12 months, and NOW, Feb 2014 $99.95 FOR SEMI-ANNUAL, WHICH IS ONLY 6 MONTHS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WHAT?????????????????????????????????????????????????? I will start the cancellation fight in July, that is ridiculous……

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Rhi May 2, 2014 at 7:41 pm

My curiosity is whether it constitutes charity fraud. I would wonder if the money is actually being used for such diverse purposes or just lining the pockets of the creators….. perhaps in administration fees. And the method of collection could be illegal itself if it is not clear that you are donating to the charity. We should totally ask the Legal Genealogist!

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Kerry Scott May 2, 2014 at 7:43 pm

I have zero evidence that the money is going to the owners or that the charity is doing anything illegal, so I am not addressing that here.

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Oxa May 3, 2014 at 7:25 am

Before making such insinuations, you should check out their track record. You can find their Form 990 filings here:
http://nccsdataweb.urban.org/orgs/profile/542096301?popup=1
They provide a lot of useful information.

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Pamela Lloyd May 2, 2014 at 7:42 pm

The practices you describe aren’t legal. This is most especially true when it comes to altering the date on the credit card. That’s known as credit card fraud and should be reported to your bank. Your bank has an entire department for looking into fraudulent charges and would normally pursue this matter. It’s possible that, since you extracted a refund from the company, the bank no longer has grounds to do so. Communicating the issue to your state’s attorney general would also be reasonable. Companies that defraud their customers need to be dealt with.

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Kerry Scott May 2, 2014 at 7:49 pm

No, really, I’m pretty sure that it’s legal. I thought it wouldn’t be, but my research so far indicates that it’s not uncommon for companies that offer auto-renewals.

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Kerry Scott May 2, 2014 at 7:53 pm

Folks, I’ve already had to delete a couple of comments that were just not a fit here (which is something I pretty much never do). I welcome your comments, but please think before you post. Unless your legal slush fund is substantial, don’t say people are doing something illegal unless you have a whole bunch of evidence to support your statement. Good genealogists don’t say stuff they can’t back up, and they don’t post wild speculation. Let’s not make this any more unpleasant than it already is.

Also: Although I enjoy swearing as much as the next heathen, if you have seven f-bombs in three sentences AND you’re making fun of someone’s appearance, that’s not going to see the light of day. Feel free to rant on your own blog if that’s your style. I’m trying to maintain a smidge of decorum here.

If your comment takes a while to appear, it’s because I’m sleeping and not moderating comments. I’ll get on the computer first thing in the morning.

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Nancy May 2, 2014 at 8:46 pm

I’m so glad you received a refund. I’ve read negative things about their billing practices in the past, and have never subscribed because of the reviews. It’s a shame that a business that has so much to offer would hurt themselves with questionable practices. Thank you for sharing your experience with the genealogy community.

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James Tanner May 2, 2014 at 8:49 pm

I would have filed a complaint with the Iowa State Attorney General’s Office some time ago, right after the charge to my expired credit card. See Carol’s comment above. This is not a casual or negligent activity.

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Miriam Robbins May 2, 2014 at 9:16 pm

Thanks for the heads up, Kerry. I really appreciate you notifying the community of this.

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Leslie Lawson May 2, 2014 at 9:21 pm

I would encourage you to also file a complaint with the Attorney Generals Office. People don’t need to be scammed out of their hard earned money. That’s just wrong.

Thank you for sharing your experience. Their lack of transparency just isn’t acceptable.

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Tami Osmer glatz May 2, 2014 at 9:24 pm

Thank you for taking the time and having the courage to post this , Kerry . Very well written, very clear and objective as far as it can be. And above all, VERY informative!

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Valerie Hansen May 2, 2014 at 9:24 pm

Well done, Kerry!

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Lori Pilla May 2, 2014 at 9:54 pm

Kerry – That sounds very much like theft and credit card fraud. Have you checked with you credit card company or bank to see if that was even legal ?

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Kerry Scott May 3, 2014 at 8:17 am

Yes—see above. It’s legal.

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Valerie Craft May 2, 2014 at 9:56 pm

It all sounds shifty, but often shifty = legal. I had a one year subscription with them when they first started, but found that they didn’t have anything I couldn’t find elsewhere. After some difficulties, though nothing like you experienced, I found I didn’t care for the company and haven’t looked at them since.

Going back to their credit card policies, I’ve had a similar experience with another company – Ancestry.com. When it was time to renew I went to unsubscribe but saw that they had an old card on file for a closed account. I got lazy and didn’t bother to cancel. Turns out, they simply went back to another card I’d used with them once upon a time, plugged in until they found a good expiration and charged me. But Ancestry has really good service and refunded the subscription when I called.

Personally, I find the refusal to answer your questions while still keeping your money (at the time) to be the worst part. If it’s legal, just answer the questions.

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Caroline Gurney May 2, 2014 at 11:03 pm

Kerry, you say that Global Way Makers is a Catholic charity but GuideStar lists it as Protestant. That seems more likely since the Catholic church does not ordain women. You might want to check and correct your post if necessary.

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Kerry Scott May 3, 2014 at 8:07 am

Oh, that’s very interesting. It said Catholic when I initially checked. I will clarify above.

I wouldn’t say there’s no connection to the Catholic Church though: Dun and Bradstreet has Debora Leitner is listed as the contact for the College of the Holy Spirit, a Catholic College (although if you google the address for the college, you’ll find a $975K home). Global Way Makers has also been previously associated with that address.

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Caroline Gurney May 3, 2014 at 9:03 pm

I don’t think the College of the Holy Spirit has anything to do with the Roman Catholic Church. As you say, the address is a private house. It is not mentioned on the website of the RC Diocese of San Diego nor on the websites of the two RC parishes in Carlsbad. The source of the information is “company supplied”. Debora Leitner / Gill runs a real estate business with a religious name from the same Carlsbad address. See: http://companies.findthebest.com/l/23603001/Kingdom-Advancement-Inc-in-Carlsbad-CA, http://www.webhotmarketing.com/debora and http://www.yatedo.com/p/Debora+Gill/normal/09180c36d82c457379e49e6c2ea1b3f9.

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Kerry Scott May 4, 2014 at 7:14 am

I agree that her College of the Holy Spirit may not actually be Catholic, but since it’s listed as such, I’d suggest that she get that corrected. One of the basics of running a business is making sure that your information is listed correctly, and if you’re running a religious non-profit, it’s especially important to get the religion right. Otherwise donors are confused. I’d want a heads-up if I were running a Protestant religious college that was listed as Catholic.

It does appear to be a real institution of some sort, regardless of its religious affiliation. When I searched google for “‘college of the holy spirit’ leitner,” I found a mention of a person who has a B.S. in management from there. It appears that person’s surname is Leitner, although I couldn’t confirm that as it’s no longer on the Facebook page where it originally appeared. I checked LinkedIn and didn’t find anyone else who had attended this institution, at least in the United States. There’s another school in by the same name in the Philippines, but I don’t believe the two are connected.

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James M Beidler May 3, 2014 at 2:18 am

When I had a fight with them a month ago over the way they upcharged me, I didn’t catch on to the charity issue. I’ll be sending a tickler to the IRS on that …

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Tony Proctor May 3, 2014 at 3:34 am

If what you say is true (you cancelled the auto-renewal, and they made up expiry details to complete the transaction) then I strongly believe that amounts to theft!! I would certainly be taking legal action if I had experienced this.

I also agree with other posters that the credit card company may be able to help. Any vendor who uses card information that you didn’t explicitly give them would be breaking the law where I live, but the CC company wouldn’t be pleased in any country.

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Kerry Scott May 3, 2014 at 8:23 am

Again, my research indicates that the expiration date thing is legal. Companies do it all the time when you are on auto-renewal. When researching this, I realized that I hadn’t updated my expiration date for many other things that I really DO want to auto-bill (the phone bill, the insurance bill, etc.). Companies are allowed to keep charging when you set up auto-billing. Additionally, their Terms of Service require you to keep your credit card info updated, so if it’s expired, you still owe them the money (according to them). Crappy, but legal (at least in the United States—I believe you’re on the other side of the pond, and I have no clue how this works there).

I was actually in the process of filling out the form to dispute the whole charge with my credit card company when I noticed that they’d charged me more than the subscription price. That led me to discover the charitable donation. At this point, I don’t have any standing to file any dispute, since I’ve received a full refund.

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Tony Proctor May 3, 2014 at 3:40 pm

I’m staggered. I would like to see them come after me if I’d cancelled my card and received new numbers. What’s the law there if someone dies leaving an auto-renewal? I still can’t believe those conditions are enforceable.

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Kerry Scott May 3, 2014 at 3:55 pm

I don’t know how it works if someone dies. I agree that’s it’s an eye-opener, and I will say that this process did educate me on that point. I totally thought I was protected by leaving them with an expired credit card, and clearly I was wrong on that point. Lesson learned. That said, I think a company that values customers even a little bit would still honor a refund request.

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amy May 3, 2014 at 4:00 am

I had a terrible time trying to unsubscribe from them last year for unrelated reasons. And I wasn’t even trying to get a refund! I was just trying to close my account. It took nearly a week of emails and phone calls.

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Travis LeMaster May 3, 2014 at 4:00 am

Thanks for the heads-up, Kerry. I checked my account, which I thought was annual, and discovered it was $99.95 for a semi-annual with auto-renewal here in May. Tough decision to make whether I feel its worth the cost, but upset that not getting what I thought I paid for.

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Debbie May 3, 2014 at 2:22 pm

I also did not catch on to the semi annual thing, so I am canceling.

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Mary Beth Marion May 3, 2014 at 5:59 am

Kerry – thanks so much for posting this. It jarred my memory about questions I had when I saw the latest charges, but I never followed up. I checked again this morning … $75.95 PER QUARTER charged in June, September, and December of 2013, and then $105.95 SEMI-ANNUAL membership charged last month. I’m going to chalk this up to “stupid tax” for not following up sooner, and cancel my membership at the time of renewal. I’ve paid for it, and now I’m going to use it like crazy until then, and then I am out of there. I refuse to be taken advantage of that way. Thanks again – I know this wasn’t a fun post to write.

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Kerry Scott May 3, 2014 at 8:26 am

If it was $105.95, you got the same charitable donation charge I did. So you’re paying $99.95 for the subscription, and the rest to the charity.

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Barbara Coughlin May 3, 2014 at 6:17 am

Kerry,
Very well reported. If you have not, I think you should also bring this to the attention of your credit card company as “guessing expiration dates” is not a practice they would support.
Additionally, in donating to a legitimate charity, YOU as the donor, are entitled to some income tax benefit. The fact that the payment was billed as one fee adds suspicion to the operation.

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Kerry Scott May 3, 2014 at 8:27 am

I have zero expertise in tax stuff, but I do wonder about not providing a separate receipt and acknowledgement for the donation. I don’t think that’s illegal, but every charity I’ve ever donated to has sent me a thank you and acknowledged the amount donated.

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Christine May 3, 2014 at 7:04 am

Thanks for sharing a FB genealogy friend shared the link to this blog. I immediate went to my account and saw that although I had signed up February 2013 for a $19.99 100 page view which I thought had expired it has been renewed for $99.95 for a semi-annual not even yearly subscription. That is completely unacceptable. My husband pays the credit card bill and obviously assumed I intentionally renewed as I do with other sites.

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Amy Crooks May 3, 2014 at 7:32 am

I had the same thing happen to me this past fall. I also had an expired debit card in my profile so I didn’t worry about it until the charge showed up. I had to call them to get it reversed and they were none to friendly about it. I did eventually get my money back as I in turn was none to friendly about their behavior, but it was a hassle. I’ve never subscribed again, nor will I. I don’t appreciate places that get all bent out of shape when you cancel. At least with Ancestry.com every time I cancel they say “Thank you” and invite me to join them again when I can. That’s how a company should treat any subscribe, and they should be honest about all charges. I’m glad you got your money back. Also be careful of Archives.com. That is how I was signed up for NewspaperArchives.com come, through them. They were also hard to cancel. I will never use them again either. The first time NewspaperArchives charged me I didn’t know why until I found out that Archives had added me. It was there, but obscured. I left it because I figured I’d use it for a while, but I wasn’t happy about being signed up for another site that I didn’t notice I was signing up for. I don’t know if these two sites are connected. Once I went through the hassle of canceling both, I never went back, and then to have them charge me again even after I had canceled the year before and my card was expired………let’s just say I didn’t hold back when I called them. Whoever took my call got an earful.

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Kerry Scott May 3, 2014 at 8:34 am

Archives.com is owned by Ancestry.com, so they aren’t connected to NewspaperArchive.com. (It’s hard to keep track of the genealogy of genealogy companies these days!) I had a mildly bad experience with them years ago, long before they were acquired, but I don’t hold it against them now because they’re clearly under new ownership.

My Archives.com subscription expired around the same time the NewspaperArchive.com one did. They sent me a notice saying that I was expiring, and that I’d be renewing at such-and-such a rate in a couple of weeks. I find it useful (that Lutheran records collection alone is totally worth it for me), so I let it renew. But after this whole debacle, I appreciated that they sent me a courtesy email. A little reasonableness is all I ask.

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JL Beeken May 3, 2014 at 10:27 am

When I put NewspaperArchives.com into search I’m taken to GenealogyBank.

NewsPaperArchive (no ‘s’) is what’s being talked about here.

It all sounds very scammy to me. “Technically” legal if you get down to splitting fine hairs is beside the point. I wouldn’t want to deal with anyone I had to fight that hard with to get common human decency out of.

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Kerry Scott May 3, 2014 at 10:31 am

Ugh, I suck at typing. I fixed it—thanks.

I agree with you completely on your last point. Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

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Dawn May 3, 2014 at 8:05 am

If I know I am auto renew for anything and am not going to auto renew, cancel NOW. It gives you enough time to keep the membership, and you dont have to worry about remembering dates later.

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Glenna May 3, 2014 at 8:18 am

I subscribed to their site a few years ago, found a few newspaper articles pertaining to my family, but the trail dried up and they didn’t seem to have any papers in areas I was researching. I didn’t renew my subscription, and as far as I know was never billed again, but then during that time I had to cancel my card because someone made fraudulent charges on it – I guess they can’t renew on a cancelled card. Anyway, I have access to NewspaperArchives through my public library, free of charge, and as far as I can tell, they haven’t added any new papers to my areas of internet, AND some of th

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Kerry Scott May 3, 2014 at 8:46 am

According to their Terms of Service, you’d still be responsible for the charges even if the card on file had been canceled. As a practical matter, it would probably be a lot of work for them to actually come after you for the money…but based on the hundreds of complaints online about them being absolutely committed to get their money no matter what, I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if they tried.

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Margel Walker Soderberg May 3, 2014 at 9:19 am

I access Newspaper Archive through my local library and love it. I wonder how they handle organizations like this?AND you can get a library card as a non-resident for $64 per year. This allows internet access to many databases such as Newspaper Archive, Historical Chicago Tribune, Heritage Quest, Sanborn Maps and others. What a great bargain. The library is the St. Joseph County Public Library (sjcpl) in South Bend, IN.

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Kerry Scott May 3, 2014 at 9:20 am

I hope they’re able to continue to offer access. As the article linked in a comment above indicates, they’re dramatically raising prices for libraries too.

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Karen Rhodes May 3, 2014 at 10:02 am

It absolutely boggles the mind that these companies think the way to prosperity is to treat their customers like dirt. Yes, there are a certain percentage who act like doormats and take any dirt anyone wants to scrape off on them, but I think more of us have the self-respect to complain about shabby treatment or at least to vote with our feet.

This issue should be taken to the consumer protection office of the state where NewspaperArchive.com is located, and that of your state, as well. I’m assuming you have one — even Florida has one! :)

It is a consumer affairs issue as well as possibly a legal issue. State laws vary. The upcharging and fishing for an expiration date may be legal in some states, not so in others. I think also that the possibly shady doings of Global Way Makers should be tipped to the IRS as well, and maybe the Federal Trade Commission. Looks to me like this is all a scam, especially after reading how the address for the “College of the Holy Spirit” comes out to a $975K private residence.

This all smells, and we in this community of genealogists need to sniff strongly, and then complain.

After a similar, but not as troubled, encounter with another genealogy company which I won’t name (I blogged about it at the time), I am so leery of any that are not well-known and reputable.

Well done, but I agree with those who say that you’ve been too nice about it! :)

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Kerry Scott May 3, 2014 at 10:09 am

I am rarely accused of being too nice, so this whole thing is kind of freaking me out.

I could spend a ton of time contacting various government agencies, but since I do contract work, every hour spent doing that is money out of my pocket (and I’ve already spent about 10 hours on this whole thing, which means it was more expensive than the actual cost of the subscription). Additionally, since I’ve received a full refund, I don’t really have any standing to do so. I also don’t have any evidence that shows that everyone who works there knows what’s going on, and I know from my own experience in lots of companies that sometimes someone’s doing something shady, and it gets fixed when it comes to light. I’m hoping this is what will happen here…and if not, I’m hoping that I’ve informed enough consumers that they can now make intelligent choices about how they want to manage their relationship with this company.

So, not too nice. Just lazy.

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Rorey Cathcart May 3, 2014 at 10:06 am

Kerry, thanks for posting this. I had made the decision to cancel this service. I just wasn’t using it and I knew I wouldn’t get a refund but I didn’t want an auto renew to slip past me with the move coming up. In spite of calling and canceling including receiving confirmation, I received a failure to pay notice at the time the subscription would’ve originally been renewed. I sent them an email including the cancellation confirmation and thought nothing more of it. Now I’m worried that they have done something to hit the old New York credit card for the Who Hunter and I’m not even aware of it. Without your post, I wouldn’t have even known to check. Fingers crossed!

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Kerry Scott May 3, 2014 at 10:13 am

Good luck!

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Anne Washburn May 3, 2014 at 10:09 am

Kerry and all, you should let your credit card or bank handle this (or at least send this article to them since you got the refund). I had a similar experience with this company and also DID receive the refund (I think this was a couple of years ago). But for them to charge a card that has expired seems to be fraudulent activity and I suspect the credit/charge card company, or bank if that’s where you get the card, would be VERY interested in their business practices. This is why I keep my American Express card, even with an annual fee. They have an aggressive customer service department to protect their card holders. (Not an ad for AmEx, just my experience!) I know other card companies seek to protect their card holders, as well. At the least, the card companies could probably block any access to accounts on the part of newspaperarchive or their “agents.”

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Kerry Scott May 3, 2014 at 10:12 am

Again—it’s legal to update the expiration date for a recurring charge. It’s not a best practice, but it’s legal. Also, since I’ve received a full refund, I can’t dispute the charge, because I already have the money back. I do agree that working with your credit card company to dispute the charge is a good option if you haven’t been able to get a refund out of them and have proof that you canceled the auto-renewal.

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Catie May 3, 2014 at 10:09 am

I just wanted to say how much I respect the way you dealt with this situation, especially the very careful way you wrote about it including how comments are handled. No need to post this comment. I just wanted to share my respect for your professionalism!

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Kerry Scott May 3, 2014 at 10:10 am

Thank you—I appreciate it. This is really not my genre, so I look forward to returning to posting goofy stuff.

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Ann May 3, 2014 at 10:18 am

Thanks for the civilized post about something that would have caused many to rant.

I, too, have had unpleasant experiences with newspaperarchive.com and will not subscribe again. Sad, because I also enjoy newspaper research and found their database useful.

I have learned how to retrieve one article per day from their database, without payment, with deft internet searches. I also use many other newspaper databases, some free, some paid subscription sites.

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Kerry Scott May 3, 2014 at 10:23 am

Many people have mentioned the legality of updating the expired credit card. As I’ve said above, I believe this is legal. This post has landed on the Find A Grave forum, and a user there named bugaboo posted info that led me to this MasterCard page. It clearly offers a service to merchants that helps them update the expiration date of an expired credit card. Clearly, this practice is legal. Let’s not argue about that point any more, because I’m not super excited about having a pack of corporate lawyers contacting me on Monday because a bunch of folks are on my blog saying this company did something illegal. My legal slush fund is about $4, and I prefer to blow that money on ice cream.

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Lisa Marker May 3, 2014 at 10:23 am

I had not known of any of this prior to reading your article. I subscribe to another newspaper site. After reading this, I will not ever be subscribing to Newspaper Archive. I will continue to use it through my local library, but that’s all.

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Nancy May 3, 2014 at 10:33 am

Good for you Kerry! We need to talk lots more about the policies of the internet genealogy sites and point out whenever and wherever there are unfair practices.

If these companies aren’t going to be good and fair members of our community than fellow genealogist need to know and NO ONE should subscribe!

Thanks now can we talk about MyHeritage ? ;-)

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Kerry Scott May 3, 2014 at 10:36 am

Oh my goodness, I don’t think I have the energy to take on another company in this same round. (Plus, I have zero experience with MyHeritage)

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Sandy May 3, 2014 at 10:46 am

Beyond nasty, beyond wrong. I’m glad you wrote the long article and am surprised you debated about it. I think sleazy things, and sleazy people need to be exposed. No one should do business with people and businesses like this.

I had a subscription with them way way back…maybe 10+ years ago, sure am glad I deleted it.

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g johns May 3, 2014 at 11:01 am

Started looking over the previous comments…too many and got lost..
-WOW – this looks SSSOOO WWRROONNGG…
—(with my limited knowledge) –IF this is a CHARITY – does it have TAX BREAKS – IF SO, GIVE THOSE THAT HAVE DONATED a tax receipt?
–AND/OR because a church and/or charity – no one can find out where the money is going to, who it is managed by, or what percentage is going to the actual causes they speak of …..
-sorry state of affairs – “just slip that in” for all, the general public…
—- thank you so much for sharing – do understand why you were being hesitant to post and share….
GJ

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Patricia May 3, 2014 at 11:07 am

I am so glad you posted this information. I had thought of signing up with Newspaper archives. After reading your article, I will most definitely NOT be signing up. Thank you.

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Jim Ward May 3, 2014 at 11:23 am

You really should take your info to the proper law authority such as an attorney general, FBI, whatever. That operation appears to be quite questionable.

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Kerry Scott May 3, 2014 at 11:24 am

See above for why I didn’t and won’t.

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Gloria Neiger Bushong May 3, 2014 at 11:37 am

Wow Judy. Thanks for the heads-up. Long ago when they first started up, I was a subscriber to Newspaper Archives. I used it for sometime and after subscribing to Ancestry and realizing that I was doing double duty billing with Newspapers and Ancestry, I called Newspaper Archives on the telephone and told them that I was not going to renew and told them the reason. About that same time we were plagued by an Identify thief trying to use our credit card and my company discontinued that card and gave us a new card with a new number. That may be the only way we were not involved with the automatic renewal and the “donation” to a charity which may or may not be questionable. Hope you iron it out.

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Skip Murray May 3, 2014 at 12:04 pm

Kerry, thank-you for writing this. I have had a subscription to genealogy bank for years, and let it go last year during some hard times. I am now ready to get a newspaper subscription again and was going to try something new. Now with a heads up from you and info about bad grades on BBB, I will be a good little genealogist and do my research before blindly sending somebody my credit card info. You have probably saved me from rising blood pressure and stress next year, when a subscription would have expired! Sorry to hear you had to go through this. Thanks for keep the conversation professional. :)

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Kerry Scott May 3, 2014 at 12:06 pm

For what it’s worth, I’ve been on Newspapers.com for a couple of weeks now, and so far I like it. That one might be worth checking out as well.

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Pam May 3, 2014 at 1:07 pm

What really worries me is that as of last year, my credit card information has the wrong address AND State and they were still able to charge. Since then we have canceled our bank account and moved again. This sounds like there may be a serious flaw in our credit card system too. I was with Newspaperarchive since 2009 and I only paid 35.97 every three months until last year. I do not recall getting notification of the price increase, but of course that could have been do to my own situation.

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Kerry Scott May 3, 2014 at 1:08 pm

I have not heard of a single person who was notified of the price increase prior to being charged.

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