American Family Publishers Inc. must have thought it was out of the woods. In March, it settled lawsuits by 31 states and the District of Columbia by agreeing to change the wording of its sweepstakes promotions.
There was only one problem.
West Virginia wasn’t impressed.
In May, West Virginia Attorney General Darrell V. McGraw Jr. filed suit against AFP and its celebrity spokesmen, Dick Clark and Ed McMahon, claiming AFP’s sweepstakes promotions are false and violate state laws.
The suit, on file with the Kanawha County Circuit Court in Charleston, asks that the court permanently stop the Newark, NJ-based stampsheet mailer, and Time Customer Service Inc. (TCS), its Tampa, FL service bureau, from doing business in West Virginia.
McGraw also seeks to have AFP repay West Virginians who spent money to enter its $11 million sweepstakes, but didn’t win, for their “out-of-pocket loss or actual damage(s).” Those damages range from people taking out unwanted magazine subscriptions to increase the chance of winning the $11 million to traveling to TCS’ offices to collect their supposed winnings.
AFP officials had no comment at deadline, but they can’t be happy. The West Virginia suit is similar to others recently filed by Connecticut, Florida and South Carolina.
West Virginia originally was a participant in the multistate suit against AFP. However, McGraw disagreed with terms of the settlement, arguing that it failed “to compensate consumers for past violations of the law” or deter the firm from future violations.
According to McGraw, AFP has bombarded the state with solicitations to participate in its $11 million sweeps that “are so cleverly done that it takes a law degree, an accounting degree and bifocals to figure out the real odds of winning.”
In those solicitations, he adds, recipients are urged to mail their entry as soon as possible, but “there’s no rush to enter because American Family Publishers isn’t telling consumers that the sweepstakes campaigns they’re entering have close dates a year and even two years in the future. You could send your entry by Pony Express and still have plenty of time for American Family’s drawing.”
The suit also accuses AFP of “acting unilaterally or in concert [with other defendants who] have employed deception, fraud, false pretense, false promise, misrepresentation and/or the concealment, suppression or omission of any material fact with the intent “of getting people to buy magazine subscriptions and believing that they have won an $11 million sweepstakes.”
Additionally, it charges that the AFP “sweepstakes scheme is unfair, deceptive and misleading because it constitutes a sophisticated and subtle promotion ruse, the effect of which is to sell magazines and other products by leading recipients to think they have winning numbers but must order magazines to collect their prizes, or that they have winning numbers and will enhance their chance of beating out an alternate winner by ordering magazines.”