Attorney General Richard Blumenthal today sent cease and desist letters to more than 100 direct mail promoters, directing them to halt solicitation of Connecticut consumers until they comply with state disclosure laws designed to protect consumers from being scammed.
"The big lie is in the mail -- literally tons of sweepstakes mailings each year much of it so deceptive that Connecticut consumers lose tens of thousands of dollars thinking the money they spend will yield a big prize," Blumenthal said.
"Very simply, 'pay to play' is illegal. Consumers may not be required to make a purchase in order to participate in any sweepstakes. Sweepstakes promoters are required to provide conspicuous disclosures to inform consumers of the often astronomical against winning and of other significant restrictions on use of prizes," Blumenthal said. "The letter directs these companies to stop their mailings in Connecticut unless they provide the required disclosures and comply with our laws. If they and others fail to heed this warning, will take action in court. We've already sued some."
Many of the promotions lead consumers to believe they have already won a big prize, and will receive the prize if they send in a fee. Other promotions lead consumers to believe if they purchase magazines or other merchandise they will increase their chances of winning.
"We're telling the solicitors and sweepstakes promoters to cease and desist. We're telling victims that we need their help. Let others learn a lesson from your experience and help us get money back for you, and apprehend the con artists," Blumenthal said.
Blumenthal's office recently recovered $10,000 for the family of a deceased, elderly West Hartford man who lost the money in small increments over time to sweepstakes promoters. The man's home was full of the cheap plastic "prizes" he "won" and useless gadgets that he purchased because he was convinced his purchases would increase the chances of winning.
"This story is all too common: targeting seniors, slick promotions seem to promise that this time the ship magically is on the horizon, when, in fact, victims are sinking fast into the grasp of unscrupulous direct mail promoters," Blumenthal said. "Consumers shoud either trash these promotions, or send them to me so we can act against them."
Blumenthal's action today in Connecticut is one of a series of efforts announced today nationwide by other Attorneys General, the Federal Trade Commission, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and the United States Postal Inspectors to reduce direct mail scams.
It represents the second phase of "Operation Senior Sting," which Blumenthal spearheaded in January 1997. Under "Operation Senior Sting," members of state and local chapters of AARP in Connecticut saved all of the sweepstakes mailings they received. Volunteers from AARP, the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) of New Britain, and the Senior Volunteer Assistance Program in the Office of the Attorney General collected and examined the mailings for compliance of the law over the past year. Their findings were reviewed by the Attorney General's staff and reported to Blumenthal.
"Our volunteers did a remarkable job of scrutinizing all of the mailings we received for compliance. The work was slow and painstaking because of the volume of mailings we received through this operation," Blumenthal said. "These senior citizens have done a tremendous service for the consumers of the State of Connecticut."
Under Connecticut law, sweepstakes promotions must disclose the following information in immediate proximity to and in at least the same face type as the description of each prize in the advertisements:
-the verifiable retail value of the prize;
-if the element of chance is involved, the odds of winning the prize in Arabic numerals as a fraction or ratio, or -- if the odds depend on the number of entries received -- a statement that the odds depend on the number of entries received;
-whether the receipt of the prize is restricted or qualified in any way.
Sweepstakes solicitations also must clearly and conspicuously disclose:
-the name and address of the promoter and the sponsor of the sweepstakes;
-any conditions or restrictions on the eligibility to receive the prize, including, but not limited to, age, residence, employment or marital status.
The sweepstakes law also prohibits games of skill offering prizes valued in excess of $200 which require an entry or judging fee. Connecticut law further prohibits promotions in which all recipients are notified that they are "winners" and participation in foreign lotteries.
Blumenthal sent letters to the 110 direct mail promoters today, detailing the statute's requirements and directing them to halt operations in Connecticut until they comply with the law. The promoters included 29 charitable solicitations, 19 solicitations for sale of magazines, 20 games of skill contests, 7 "everybody wins" solicitations, 5 foreign lottery solicitations and 30 miscellaneous sweepstakes promotions. Blumenthal urged consumers who believe they were victimized by sweepstake scams to write to the Office of the Attorney General, 110 Sherman Street, Hartford, Connecticut, 06105, or to call the Consumer Assistance Unit at (860) 808-5420.
The companies directed to halt solicitations include:
Alzheimers Disease Fund, Washington, DC;
American Diabetes Association, Framingham, MA;
American Lung Association, St. Paul, MN;
American Paralysis Association, Springfield, NJ;
AMVETS, Lanham, MD;
Arthritis Fund (TAF), Washington, DC;
Cancer Center, Seattle, WA;
Cancer Center for Detection and Prevention, Seattle, WA;
Center for Advanced Heart Research, Dallas, TX;
Diabetes Research and Wellness Foundation, Washington, DC;
Easter Seal Society, Chicago, IL;
Heart Support of America, Knoxville, TN;
Help Disabled War Veterans, San Diego, CA;
International Fund for Animal Welfare (USA), Yarmouth Port, MA
National Cancer Coalition, Seattle, WA;
National Cancer Research Center, Aberdeen, MD;
National Children's Cancer Society, St. Louis, MO;
National Diabetes Fund, Dallas, TX;
National Federation of the Blind, Baltimore, MD;
National Heart Council, Baltimore, MD;
National Humane Education Society, Leesburg, VA;
National Park Trust, Washington, DC;
National Sweepstakes Administration, Knoxville, TN;
Oratory, Rock Hill, SC;
Paralyzed Veterans of America, Washington, DC;
Running Strong for American Indian Youth, Lorton, VA;
Salesian Missions, New Rochelle, NY;
Wildlife Land Trust, Washington, DC;
World Children's Fund, San Jose, CA;
International Advisory Corporation (IAC), Atlanta, GA;
International Awards Advisory Committee, North Nork, ON, Canada;
International Lottery Entry Services, New Westminster, BC, Canada;
The Fortune Net, Pompano Beach, FL;
World Involvement Network, Vancouver, BC, Canada;
American Family Publishers, Tampa, FL;
Better Homes and Grdens, Longmont, CO;
Catholic Digest, St. Paul, MN;
Consumers Digest, Chicago, IL;
Disney Adventures, Boone, IA;
Home, Car and Driver Magazines, New York, NY;
Loveswept, New York, NY;
McCall's, New York, NY;
Men's Health Magazine, Red Oak, IA;
National Magazine Exchange, Clearwater, FL;
Premiere Magazine, Boulder, CO;
Publisher's Clearing House, Port Washington, NY;
RD Publications, Pleasantville, NY;
Savoy Group, Stone Mountain, GA;
Sports Illustrated, Tampa, FL;
Time, New York, NY;
TV Guide, Radnor, PA;
U.S. News and World Report, Boulder, CO;
Bonanza of Cash, Bradenton, FL;
Colby and Cooke Universal, Houston, TX;
Fortune Hunters, Bradenton, FL;
Franklin Robards and Associates, Las Vegas, NV;
Gold Coast Cash, Bundall, Q.L.D., Australia;
Guaranteed Cash II, Las Vegas, NV;
Hidden Treasure, Niagra Falls, NY;
Liberty Sweepstakes, Hicksville, NY;
Lot O' Cash, N.K.C., MO;
Mega Money, Niagra Falls, NY;
Money Madness, Las Vegas, NV;
North American Award Center, North Kansas City, MO;
National Prize Association, North Kansas City, MO;
Northeast Awards Bureau of America, Bellmore, NY;
Offices of Allan Randall, Missoula, MT;
Pacific Coast Cash, Richmond, B.C., Canada;
Passport to Riches II, Pittsburgh, PA;
Priority Dispatch, Missoula, MT;
South Seas Cash Contest, Australia;
Strike It Rich, N.K.C., MO;
American Equities, Las Vegas, NV; American Values Sweepstakes, Margate, FL; Associated Marketing Systems, Bakersfield, CA; Award Notification Service, Las Vegas, NV; Awards Payment Center, New York, NY; Bonus Distribution Center, Las Vegas, NV; Cash and Prize Network, Kitchener, ON, Canada;
Cash Award Center, Vancouver, B.C., Canada;
Consumer Awards Sweepstakes, New York, NY;
Consumer Incentive Group, Houston, TX;
Express Gram, Kansas City, MO,
First American Limited, Dallas, TX;
First Financial Exchange, Houston, TX;
Guaranteed Sweepstakes, New York, NY;
House of Wesley, Bloomington, IL;
JADA, Denver, CO;
Millenium, West Palm Beach, FL;
Motor Vehicle Awards, Yarmouth Port, MA;
Nationwide Clearinghouse LTD, San Antonio, TX;
Premier Incentives, Marietta, GA;
Priority, Kansas City, MO;
Prize Claim Department, Checktowaga, NY;
Prize Notification Center, New York, NY;
Roberts and Sons Electronic Prize Payment Service, New York, NY;
Sweepstakes Headquarters, Boca Raton, FL;
Taylor and Tate International, Houston, TX;
United States Purchasing Exchange, North Hollywood, CA;
Value-Time, New York, NY;
Westport National, Kansas City, MO;
Winner's Disbursement Office, New York, NY;