Scammers peddle now-defunct Microsoft magazine

Scammers hoping to sell high-priced subscriptions for a now-defunct Microsoft programming magazine may have picked the wrong audience to try to rip off.

Software developers have been receiving offers in the mail to subscribe to Microsoft Systems Journal. Founded in 1986 by Microsoft, the magazine was later co-published with trade magazine publisher CMP Media.

The technically minded publication covered the internal workings of Microsoft operating systems, from MS-DOS all the way to Windows 2000. But Microsoft Systems Journal was merged in 2000 with Microsoft Internet Developer magazine to create the current MSDN magazine, according to Stephen Toub, a technical editor at MSDN who published a report about the offer on his blog last week.

"Readers were skeptical and outraged," said Toub, who received several e-mails about the offer, including a copy of the subscription form.

The offer promises substantial savings to those willing to pay US$50 a year for a subscription and directs them to mail back the forms -- along with checks or credit card information -- by Feb. 3 to a rented mailbox in a Mailboxes Etc. store in a Lexington shopping mall.

"For maximum savings, please remit US$150.00 for 3 years 36 issues," reads the offer, which also claims that "subscriptions for business purposes maybe tax deductible."

"Only some yahoo can hope to scam programmers via snail mail about a dead publication," read one post at Toub's blog. "You gotta give those guys credit for trying such a boldly stupid scam."

Magazine scams are "very common," said Sheila Adkins, associate director of public affairs for The Council of Better Business Bureaus in Arlington, Va. The organization received 4,964 complaints about magazine sales in 2004, with 36 percent of them related to offers that arrived in the mail.

"Usually they try to trip you up by getting you to buy more than one year," Adkins said. "But when you sit down and do the math, you realize that you're paying more."

In that sense, software developers were probably not the best target for a math-related scam. "Most programmers, I understand, have very good math skills," Adkins said.

Citing federal law, the owner of the Mailboxes Etc. declined to give any information about the owner of the mailbox.

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Eric Lai

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