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Publishers Clearing House under investigation by Senate committee

Publishers Clearing House fans got a double helping of bad news this week on two fronts. On April 25 they learned from the PCH Blog that no one would win the $7,000 a week for life super prize advertised by the company since February. But two days earlier, on April 23, Consumer Reports informed consumers that the popular sweepstakes company was under investigation by the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging.

The investigating Senate committee has now released their findings about the sweepstakes giveaway company in a 259-page PCH Report, which states that Publishers Clearing House is "pushing the envelope" when it comes to the direct-marketing industry.

Senator Bill Nelson is a Florida Democrat who heads the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging, and he says that while he is "all for folks winning prizes," that he is concerned that seniors are still reporting being misled by the direct marketing company after PCH faced fines and settlement agreements about prior deceptive sweepstakes mailings and promotions.

For the record, Publishers Clearing House isn't the only sweepstakes company to come under fire back in 2000 for sending out mailers to the elderly and others that appeared to lead some to believe they had won a prize when they had not--or that they had to make a purchase in order to win. American Family Publishers was accused of the same thing, and they later went bankrupt.

PCH never admitted to any wrongdoing, but they did agree to pay a total of 52 million in fines to 49 states, and to reword their sweepstakes mailings, to make them less deceptive in language. But in 2010 they were confronted with accusations that they were back to their old deceptive mailing ways, according to 33 states, which agreed to accept $3.5 million in fines for the transgression of the company, if it would honor the 2000 agreement it had previously made.

Fast forward to 2014, and now a Senate committee is looking into whether Publishers Clearing House is once again violating the agreement they previously made--and if the Deceptive Mail Prevention and Enforcement Act needs to be updated to address deceptive emails too, since the company has moved towards online communications more than mailings.

The Atlanta Top News Examiner has been watching the direct marketing and sweepstakes company and conducting her own experiment over the past six months regarding whether you have to make a purchase in order to win, and if mailings or emails are deceptive in nature. In addition, she has looked at other aspects of the organization's sweepstakes efforts, to see if prizes advertised are awarded or not. That experiment is scheduled to conclude in mid-May, so be sure to check back with the Examiner for the results of her Publishers Clearing House study.

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