FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
April 5, 2000
Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr., announced today a multi-state settlement with one of the most aggressive sweepstakes companies that will provide a $30 million restitution fund for consumers nationwide, drastically changing the way the company will communicate with consumers in the future.
General Curran and the Attorneys General of 48 other states and the District of Columbia have entered into this settlement with United States Sales Corporation, a California company operating under the name United States Purchasing and Exchange (USPE). The agreement requires USPE to make clear to consumers that purchasing from USPE will not increase the consumer's chances of winning the sweepstakes. USPE must also refrain from making misleading statements about a consumer's chance of winning a prize and must disclose all pertinent information, including odds of winning, in a prominent "Sweepstakes Facts" table.
Each year, USPE sends tens of millions of sweepstakes solicitations to consumers in Maryland and across the country. These mailings offer for sale a variety of different items, such as household products. Curran said consumers, particularly older people, have been misled into believing that they have already won a prize or that purchasing a product, even if unwanted, will improve their chances of winning.
"Maryland consumers have spent large sums of money on unneeded products in hopes that they will improve their chances of winning the big money prize from USPE," said General Curran. "This settlement helps some of the more victimized consumers get their money back and, most importantly, protects against such continued abuse of Maryland consumers."
Under the settlement, USPE will provide a $30 million fund for restitution. Any consumer who spent more than $1,870 with USPE in any one of the calendar years 1997, 1998, or 1999, may make a claim for restitution. In approximately six months, a simple claim form will be distributed by an independent administrator to all consumers who fit this description. The Attorney General's Office is available to assist any consumer with questions and can be reached at 410-576-6550.
The settlement also prevents future abuse of consumers by requiring that USPE stop mailing solicitations of any sort to a consumer who has made more than 25 purchases or has spent more than $935 in any 12 month period. Future solicitations will also make clear and simple how a consumer can enter a sweepstakes without make a purchase as the method of entry will be the same regardless of whether a purchase is made. USPE is also prohibited from using simulated checks in its solicitations and must clearly disclose the true value of any bonus prize offered to purchasers.