Colorado one of 16 states to sue Publishers Clearing House

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Publishers Clearing House (PCH) surprises its sweepstakes winners with its annual Super Bowl Sunday ''Prize Patrol.''

The Port Washington company got a surprise of its own Monday as New York, Colorado and 14 other states broke off settlement negotiations and sued it for misleading consumers into believing they had a better chance of winning if they ordered more products.

''We are dismayed and disappointed that New York has chosen to abandon negotiation and proceed with legal action against our company,'' said Bill Low, lawyer and senior vice president for the sweepstakes company.

Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar said legal action is appropriate.

''Too many Colorado consumers, particularly our elderly consumers, have been misled by PCH into believing that they have won a guaranteed prize,'' Salazar said Monday. ''PCH has developed a multi-million dollar business by getting consumers to purchase PCH merchandise by purposefully deceiving them into believing such purchases will increase their odds of winning a major prize.''

''Publishers Clearing House is very artful in stating half-truths to create an overall impression that the particular consumer will be more likely to win an enormous cash prize if he or she purchases something,'' Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch said.

The lawsuits were filed individually in local courts in each state. However, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said the lawsuits were sparked by a multi-state investigation.

''This sweepstakes company has engaged in an elaborate scheme to increase its bottom line, financed on the backs of some who can least afford it: the elderly,'' Spitzer said.

That brings the number of states suing Publishers Clearing House to 25.

''Publisher's Clearing House for years has been targeting the elderly and the gullible with a blizzard of deceptive mailers that are really disguised sales pitches,'' California Attorney General Bill Lockyer said.

Publishers Clearing House spokesman Chris Fisher denied it targets senior citizens. Spitzer and the other attorneys general want Publishers Clearing House banned from using its current promotions and for the company to pay unspecified restitution.

Spitzer also wants civil penalties under the state deceptive acts statute and the state Prize Award Scheme Law, as well as an additional $10,000 for violations of a state law enacted to penalize frauds perpetrated against the elderly.

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