Deceived sweepstakes recipients fight back
Allene Zied was a sweepstakes winner. She was guaranteed $50,000 for just returning her entry. At least that’s what she thought.
It now seems that Zied, 84, was one of more than five million Americans to receive the same notification letter from American Family Publishers.
A letter that sent several people, many of them elderly, to the company’s offices in Tampa, Fla. to collect their winnings. The sweepstakes and its celebrity spokesmen Dick Clark and Ed McMahon are now facing charges in Florida for using deceptive tactics to sell magazine subscriptions.
Zied, who moved to South Lake Tahoe from Southern California to live with her daughter about four months ago, was watching the Today Show eagerly on the day the winner was to be announced. Zied and her daughter had understood the letter to mean if she returned the winning number before her one alternate she would win $11 million and if she didn’t get hers in first she would get $50,000 “guaranteed” for just sending in the entry.
“When the letter came we all agreed that I had won at least $50,000,” Zied said. “The letter was absolutely different from anything they had ever sent. If you read it you would really believe you had at least won the $50,000 consolation prize. It’s fraud.”
Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth agreed. He filed a civil complaint against American Family Publishers, Clark and McMahon in state court in Tampa. The complaint alleges violations of Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. Butterworth also wants the company banned from using the same marketing device again.
Two Georgetown University Law Center professors filed similar charges against American Family Publishers in Maryland in a class-action lawsuit.
In a statement released this week, American Family Publishers said the mailings are not deceptive, and are not written to be. They are also not designed to entice entrants to travel to Tampa to deliver entries.
Richard Lusk, 88, flew from Southern California to Tampa believing he had won $11 million only to be turned away at the door of the sweepstakes distribution center.
A spokesperson for the company said since the sweepstakes’ inception American Family Publishers has give away more than $77 million in cash and major prizes.
Zied is not ready to let the issue drop. Zied’s daughter, Leslie, has contacted California Attorney General Dan Lungren’s office and sent off copies of the mailings they received from the sweepstakes. A spokesperson for Lungren’s office said he can not make any statement at this time on the letters, or what if any action Lungren might take. Zied is confident that the state government will stand behind her.
“This is really fraud by mail,” Zied said. “I’m sure it will go to court. It is important and I won’t leave it alone.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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