Local News

N.C. Attorney General Stops Sham Sweepstakes Telemarketing

Posted September 4, 2002

— A judge has banned Publishers Sweepstakes from telemarketing to North Carolina consumers, Attorney General Roy Cooper announced Wednesday.

"These telemarketers mislead consumers with offers of sweepstakes winnings," said Cooper. "They used prizes as gimmicks to get consumers to sign up for long-term magazine subscriptions that cannot be cancelled and must be paid in a matter of months. The only way for consumers to win is to hang up."

In a complaint filed last week, Cooper alleged that Publishers Sweepstakes broke laws designed to protect North Carolina consumers from deceptive telemarketing and illegitimate sweepstakes offers.

Wake County Superior Court Judge Ripley Rand issued a temporary restraining order Wednesday to stop the company from calling North Carolinians. The suit also seeks consumer refunds and civil penalties from Publishers Sweepstakes, which appears to operate out of Florida.

Publishers Sweepstakes is not connected to Publishers Clearing House, which settled a lawsuit last year brought by Cooper and other attorneys general alleging that the company's sweepstakes mailings were deceptive.

"Congratulations," the Publishers Sweepstakes pitch begins, "You have been especially selected to enter a sweepstakes." North Carolina law bans telemarketers from using the word "congratulations" or other phrases implying that the consumer has won something.

It is also illegal for telemarketers to tout a prize without first posting a bond of equal value with the Secretary of State. In addition, sweepstakes callers must reveal the retail value of the prize, the odds of winning, and the number of prizes to be awarded. Cooper alleges that Publishers Sweepstakes failed to abide by these provisions of the law and that the prizes were a device to sell magazine subscriptions.

According to consumers who complained to Cooper's office, the telemarketers refused to provide Publisher Sweepstakes' telephone number or mailing address in violation of North Carolina law. When asked, the telemarketers also failed to honor requests to be placed on the company's no call list. A consumer from Cary continued to receive calls even after she asked to be put on the no call list 12 times.

Cooper is pushing for a statewide No-Call Registry that would allow consumers to register their name and telephone number with the Attorney General's office rather than relying on individual companies to maintain and abide by their own no-call lists.

"Too often, we hear that telemarketers keep calling even after consumers have asked to be placed on their no call list," said Cooper. "With a statewide No Call Registry. consumers could sign up once to stop telemarketers for good."

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