CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Publishers Clearing House, which runs a well-known sweepstakes, has agreed to revise potentially confusing advertising in a new agreement with West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw's office.
The settlement revises a 2001 agreement reached with 33 states, including West Virginia, and the District of Columbia in which the Port Washington, N.Y.-based company agreed to refine its pitch to ensure that consumers don't think that buying merchandise will increase their chances of winning.
Under the original agreement, the company was required to survey consumers who spent a certain amount to see if they were misled by Publisher Clearing House's advertising.
"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," a news release from the Attorney General's Office states.
Since then, there have been allegations that the company might have violated the terms of that agreement, according to the court order approving the agreement filed in Kanawha Circuit Court on Thursday.
"PCH denies it has violated the Consent Judgments and denies any liability or wrongdoing," the order states.
The company did agree to revise the agreement by agreeing to greatly increase the number of consumers it surveys to make sure they understood that buying merchandise didn't increase the consumer's chances of winning, according to the news release.
Publishers Clearing House also agreed to pay $3.5 million to reimburse the states for the cost of their investigation, the release states.
In one case, a West Virginia man learned after his mother died that she had spent hundreds of dollars on merchandise while trying to win the sweepstakes, according to the release.
"If you have a family member who is spending more money than he or she can afford on Publishers Clearing House 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," McGraw said in a prepared statement.
Consumers who want to get off of Publishers Clearing House's mailing list should write a letter to the Attorney General's Office, said senior assistant attorney general Charli Fulton.
Anyone with concerns regarding the sweepstakes can contact the Consumer Protection Division online at www.wvago.gov or call the Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-368-8808.
Reach Andrew Clevenger at acleven...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.