The promotional claims of Beatrice Bayley Schneider have again caught the Attention of Federal Postal Inspectors.
Beatrice Bayley Inc., the publisher of a "family heritage book" was investigated in 1980 by the U.S. Postal Service for possible mail fraud, according to U.S. Postal Inspector Baxter Carr. He said the probe ended when the firm voluntarily signed a consent order agreeing to stop making misrepresentations in its direct mail solicitations.
"After that, they changed the language somewhat," Carr said.
But the latest solicitations have triggered so many inquiries that postal officials have decided to take another look at the company, which sends out about 400,000 post cards each week to consumers around the country. "The current mailings of Bayley are being reexamined," Carr said.
Bayley, which is based in the small eastern Pennsylvania community of Sterling, uses the mail to sell what its post card calls an "invaluable guide" that "will lead you through the discovery and documentation of your personal and family heritage." The guide, which the post card describes as a "leather textured library edition, beautifully hard bound and gold stamped," sells for $29.85 plus $3 for postage and handling. The post card says that anyone not satisfied can get a refund of $29.85 if the book is returned within 10 days of receipt.
Some customers who have ordered the guide, however, complain that it doesn't live up to the post card promotion.
In a January 1985 report, the Council of Better Business Bureaus said that consumers found the solicitations "misleading" and were "surprised that the books they receive do not contain personalized information on their family genealogy."
Kurt J. Schneider, 46, who started the company in 1978 with his mother, Beatrice Bayley Schneider, 75, said in a telephone interview that he was aware of 67 complaints between 1982-84, a number he described as "exceptionally low" considering the company's sales of about 100,000 books a year. Carr said that since 1980, when the consent order was signed, about 1,000 people have contacted the postal service with questions about the language in the post cards.
Schneider said the company has hundreds of letters from satisfied customers.
In addition, Schneider said his company had "worked very hard [with postal officials] to correct any verbal discrepancies." But, he said, "with the amount of mail we put out, you have a percentage of consumers who will understand and a percentage who won't."
The design of the Bayley post card helps explain why a consumer might expect more from the book than it offers. Presented in the form of a personal note from Beatrice Bayley, a retired school teacher, the post card is addressed to a particular individual, such as John Smith. With the use of computer technology, Bayley weaves additional references to the individual's family into the text of the solicitation. The card to Mr. Smith, for instance, announces that the "Smith Family Heritage Book" will be published shortly, that the Smith Heritage Book will be registered in the owner's name and that the "Unique Smith Family Book" will contain a directory of almost every Smith family.
While the use of those words may suggest to some consumers that the directory contains a personalized history of their family, the BBB's January 1985 report says that the list of names and addresses included in the book was obtained by computer scanning of utility and government records. The BBB says that the book is personalized only to the extent of being titled with the purchaser's family surname.
So what is unique about the book? Schneider answered: "It is unique to everybody having the same last name."