As you’ve probably seen everywhere else on the web, Publisher’s Clearing House has agreed to pay out 3.5 million in damages after being accused of deceptive marketing practices. In addition to the money, Publisher’s Clearing House is being tasked with a new set of rules in regard to how they run their business and here is where it gets sticky.
The claim is mostly based on the fact that people, particularly seniors, were left with the impression that the more they bought from PCH, the better their chances would be of winning the big prize. Now, I haven’t seen one of their letters in a long time, but I’m pretty sure it says right on there that buying will not increase your chance of winning. Okay, I get that not everyone reads the not-so-fine print and that not everyone understands what they read, but how is that PCH’s fault?
I’m not siding with the big check guys completely, mind you. I’ve always found their game to be a little scammy but by the same token, so is every casino and state lottery. Can I sue the State of California if I buy $5,000 worth of scratchers and only win $1.00? Their website says there are still millions of dollars to be won and all my dreams could come true if I play. How is that any different?
A press release from Illinois State Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office included these statements:
“One senior reported spending $2,126 on merchandise in one year in hopes of winning a prize, but never won a dime.”
“Another Illinois consumer said her 84-year-old father “is devastated each time he learns he is not the winner.” She told Madigan’s office that her father believes that he’s more likely to win because he makes purchases and receives personalized mailings from Publishers.”
Now, as part of the settlement, PCH is required to check up on any senior who spends more than $500 in a quarter. They have to contact the person and find out if they have all their faculties and if they don’t understand how the sweepstakes works, then PCH must cut them from their mailing list.
Seriously? Who is going to make these screening calls? Trained mental health professionals? And how many people are we talking about? There must be plenty of seniors over spending or this thing never would have made it to court.
My problem with this whole situation is where does the company’s responsibility end? As long as their sales letters make it clear that a purchase is not necessary, how can they be held liable? Sure, they could tone down the hoopla or ban anyone over 65 from their mailing list. But should they have to?
Here’s the real kicker, the 3.5 million dollar fine will be given to the 32 states that filed against PCH to be used to re-coop investigative costs. So, none of the money will go to the people supposedly wronged by the company? Now that sounds like deceptive marketing to me.