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Unwanted subscriptions slip into CondeNet orders

A systems error at Conde Nast's online subscription services provider incorrectly bills between 5,000 to 7,000 of the publishing empire's customers for subscriptions they did not order.

While ordering gift magazine subscriptions on the Conde Nast Web site, Tom Blum got more than he bargained for.

Two days after Thanksgiving, the New York University administrator logged on to CondeNet and bought subscriptions to Wired and the New Yorker for his relatives. As he completed his purchase, Blum said the site asked if he wanted to buy a subscription for himself--but the answer box was already checked "No," so he left it alone.

But last Thursday, when Blum received his confirmation for the order, he discovered he had been charged for an additional subscription to both magazines. He called to notify the company and was told by Centrobe customer service representatives--the company that handles Conde Nast's subscription services--that "lots of customers had called with the same problem," he said.

"If they were aware of the problem, why didn't they go in there and fix the program?" Blum asked.

Consumer management company Centrobe, which handles online and offline subscriptions for 300 publications, including the 17 magazines within the Conde Nast publishing empire, acknowledged this week that a systems error Click or miss incorrectly billed between 5,000 to 7,000 Conde Nast customers for subscriptions they did not order.

Patrick Gray, a spokesman for Boulder, Colo.-based Centrobe, said the systems error has been fixed. He declined to name what other publications might have been affected. "There is no telling yet just how many people were charged incorrectly," Gray said.

Conde Nast spokesman Tom Burke said that the company, which publishes fashion stalwarts such as GQ, Vogue and Glamour is waiting for Centrobe to identify the customers who were overcharged before they bill gift-subscription buyers. Customers who paid with a credit card will receive an immediate refund, he said.

"Its important to note that most customers don't pay with a credit card," Burke said. "The majority of magazine buyers ask to be billed later when they order, so most of the people overcharged have not paid yet."

Centrobe is the latest Internet company to buckle at the height of the holiday shopping season.

Merchants that operate online, such as Toys "R" Us and, have suffered outages or delays in service as holiday shopping has intensified. Months before the holidays, analysts cautioned online retailers to shore up their systems for the increased volume of shoppers because any major crashes could turn consumers off to online buying.

Centrobe's Gray said that the glitch was discovered on Dec. 10 and corrected on Dec. 14. He added that of the publications that Centrobe services, only those that offer gift-subscription promotions online were affected.