West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw, along with the legal officers of 33 other states and the District of Columbia, has reached an agreement with Publishers Clearing House, which runs a well-known national sweepstakes contest.
The agreement between the Attorneys General and Publishers Clearing House (PCH) directs the company, based in Port Washington, N.Y., to take new action to halt deceptive advertising in its sweepstakes promotions. The agreement also requires Publishers Clearing House to pay $3.5 million to cover the cost of the states' investigation.
The company agreed to the supplemental consent judgment, filed[PDF] Thursday in Kanawha County Circuit Court, that modifies the terms of a court order filed in 2001.
The 2001 order required Publishers to stop promotions that could lead consumers to believe their chances of winning a prize would be increased by purchasing merchandise from the company.
In response to allegations that the company wasn't complying with the 2001 court order, the states' recent investigation showed consumes were still confused by the nature and language of some of the company's sweepstakes promotional mailings.
Under the original court order, the company was required to survey consumers who spent more than a certain amount of money to determine whether they were misled by its sweepstakes mailings.
Under the new agreement, Publishers Clearing House has agreed to alter the language it uses in its mailings that allegedly insinuates those who purchase more are more likely to win prizes.
The company also must stop informing recipients that they have special "key codes" for the winning entry and they must stop sending the communication from a "Board of Judges."
If a consumer was generally confused or disoriented by the solicitations, believed that buying would increase his or her chances of winning, or was making excessive purchases in relation to his or her needs, the company agreed to stop sending its mailings to that individual.
According to McGraw's office, the new court order includes additional requirements to help ensure that consumers are not further misled or confused by the company's sweepstakes promotions. The new terms also greatly increase the number of consumers who will be surveyed to ensure their understanding that purchasing merchandise does not increase their chances of winning a sweepstakes prize, it said.
One West Virginia resident learned only after his mother's death that she had been charged hundreds of dollars for merchandise while entering the popular sweepstakes.
McGraw said in a statement Thursday, "If you have a family member who is spending more money than he or she can afford on (the Publisher's) sweepstakes, or who believes that buying merchandise will increase the chances of winning the big prize, send my office a written complaint and we can get the sweepstakes mailing stopped."
Consumers who have fallen victim to sweepstakes offers can contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at www.wvago.gov or call the Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-368-8808. For regular consumer news updates, follow the AGO on Facebook and Twitter.