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Q&A: Sweepstakes lawsuits, lost mail

Ask the Times

Sweepstakes lawsuits

I constantly receive information from Publishers Clearing House. I entered a recent contest, but discovered that the date for the drawing was continuously moved back until another prize was offered. How is this scam not been investigated or challenged by government agencies?

Publishers Clearing House has settled at least three lawsuits in the past 15 years. It paid $18 million to 23 states in 2000 and agreed to be more specific when stating that purchases don't increase a person's chances of winning.

In 2001, PCH agreed to pay $34 million to 25 states and alter what was called deceptive marketing techniques. PCH was forced to refund customers and stop making false and misleading statements to persuade people to buy merchandise. The agreement also made PCH stop using certain phrases, including "guaranteed winner."

In 2010, PCH agreed to pay $3.5 million to 34 states and again change its wording and tactics. The U.S. Senate Committee on Aging concluded in April that "new legislation may be needed to better protect consumers from email and online sweepstakes promotions." Its 259-page report stated that "consumers are being misled by deceptive sweepstakes promotions from Publishers Clearing House."

PCH contests are legitimate and all prizes are funded by company revenue, according to info.pch.com. The company has awarded more than $223 million since the contest started in 1967.

"I'm all for folks winning prizes, but it concerns me when seniors still report they're being misled by Publishers Clearing House," Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., stated in the committee's report.

Where lost mail goes

My small package, mailed from Arkansas to California in late February, is supposedly in Atlanta's recovery center. It was supposed to be returned to me. I received an email saying lost mail is kept at the recovery center for 90 days. What happens to lost mail after that period? Is it opened or sold?

After 90 days, clerks at the Mail Recovery Center in Atlanta are authorized to open mail "in an effort to find information that will allow the item to be delivered or returned to the sender," U.S. Postal Service spokesman Michael Miles told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"After the 90-day period, or after the claim has been paid, items are subject to auction," he said. The 90-day period allows customers to contact their local post office or the Mail Recovery Center, which will initiate a search. The Mail Recovery Center receives mail that is undeliverable for a variety of reasons from postal facilities across the country, Miles said.

Compiled from Times and wire reports. To submit a question, email answers@tampabay.com.

Q&A: Sweepstakes lawsuits, lost mail 06/26/14 [Last modified: Thursday, June 26, 2014 4:54pm]
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