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Hood, AGs file against Publishers Clearing House

JACKSON — Attorney General Jim Hood, along with 31 additional states attorneys general and the District of Columbia, have announced the filing of a judgment with sweepstakes company Publishers Clearing House (PCH), of Port Washington, N.Y.

The “Stipulated Supplemental Judgment” was filed in Hinds County Chancery Court Sept. 9 and modifies the terms of a prior judgment filed in 2000.

Earlier settlements with PCH filed by numerous states, including Mississippi, in separate state actions in 2000 and 2001 included specific conditions aimed at resolving the states’ allegations that PCH engaged in deceptive marketing practices by mailing promotional materials designed to mislead consumers into believing that purchases would increase their odds of winning.

The states’ recent investigation raised concerns that PCH was not fully complying with the prior agreement and that consumers could still be confused by the nature and language of some of the company’s subsequent sweepstakes promotional mailings.

“The supplemental judgment includes stronger provisions than the prior agreement and also includes additional conditions to help ensure that consumers are not further misled or confused by the company’s sweepstakes promotions,” said Hood.

The major provisions of the agreement are:

• An ombudsperson will review mailings as an additional layer of review.

• PCH agrees to greatly increase (in essence, triple) the amount of surveys being done to weed out those who don’t understand (a) they don’t have to buy to enter or win and (b) that buying won’t help them. In addition, states can make suggestions to improve the surveys.

• The injunctive terms of the former judgments are tightened and increased. One significant provision is that on the order/entry form a visual alert will be strategically placed to make it virtually impossible for someone to overlook the federal warning message about buying. That message is currently at the bottom of the document, where it might be overlooked.

In addition, the company agreed to pay $3.5 million to cover the cost of the states’ investigation. Mississippi is expected to receive approximately $40,000.

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