Office of the Attorney General News Release Archive

Monday, October 18, 1999


Lawsuit alleges sweepstakes giant preyed on elderly

AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General John Cornyn filed a lawsuit against Publishers Clearing House (PCH) for numerous violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA). The suit alleges that the sweepstakes company made a variety of misleading representations through mail order solicitations designed to deprive money primarily from elderly recipients.

"As I have said many times before, elder Texans need and deserve protection from those who would try to take advantage of them. By taking legal action, I hope to bring to an end the clearly illegal practices Publishers Clearing House has engaged in," Cornyn said.

Filed in Travis County District Court, the lawsuit cites multiple violations of the DTPA, all of which allege that PCH misled consumers about their odds of winning a sweepstakes in an attempt to sell a wide assortment of merchandise.

According to the suit, PCH has developed a cycle of illegal acts designed to reinforce one another. Victims, who are disproportionately seniors, are lured into believing they will win if they respond to the solicitation in a timely manner. The company implies that placing an order for advertised items may enhance their chances of winning.

Those who place orders are then assaulted by a barrage of PCH solicitations, each claiming the victim is closer and closer to winning, and that additional orders will help cement their multi-millionaire status. These customers are in some cases known to spend from $500.00 to $20,000.00 or more each year in hopes of winning. By concentrating on this group, PCH has taken millions of dollars from Texas consumers.

The suit asks the court for a permanent injunction requiring PCH to discontinue several marketing practices in Texas and asks for civil penalties to be paid to the state of up to $10,000.00 per violation. Under the terms of the injunction, PCH would also be required to provide restitution to those consumers identified as victims.

"Illicit sweepstakes promotion tactics have been and will continue to be a major consumer protection focus for my administration. There is no place for promotion techniques that work only when then they succeed in hoodwinking unwary consumers," Attorney General Cornyn said.

Having played a pivotal role in a multistate working group, Texas officially becomes the ninth state to file suit against PCH, after Missouri which sued on October 15. Other states which have filed against PCH include Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Arizona, Connecticut, Indiana and Washington.

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Contact Mark Heckmann, Heather Browne, or Tom Kelley at (512) 463-2050