There was nothing like the elation of getting that first shipment of records for essentially nothing — but that ecstasy was quickly offset by the anxiety of finding out that you owed $34.74 for those Sir Mix-A-Lot and Crash Test Dummies discs you never asked for. Now you were on the hook: either you could fulfill your obligation, or start ducking collection agencies.
Unless, of course, you could find a way to cheat the system. For a large contingent of the record-club membership, scheming a way to get more free records — usually through fake accounts and multiple addresses — was the ultimate caper. Everyone had a friend of a friend who had supposedly done it: signing up using a false name, or having the records sent to a conspirator’s address. After all, in the pre-supercomputer age, it wasn’t hard to stay one step ahead of Columbia House’s detectives.
The patron saint of the records-club schemers would probably be Joseph Parvin. In 2000, the 60-year-old was prosecuted for having received, between 1993 and 1998, nearly 27,000 CDs, using over 2000 fake accounts and 16 P.O. boxes. All told, he bilked Columbia House (and rival BMG) out of $425,000 of product, selling them at flea markets. For anyone who was paying attention when his arrest made headlines at the time, it was kind of like finding out that Paul Bunyan is real — someone actually was able to cheat the system the way everyone dreams of.
– Stealing music didn’t originate with the internet. In the era of subscription vinyl, Columbia House records club ruled—until the recording artists revolted and the medium evolved. Read Daniel Brockman & Jason W. Smith’s take at The Phoenix.