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March 30, 2007

Attorney General's Office Sounds Warning: Sweepstakes Mail Threatens Older Iowans

New warning issued by Attorney General staff at Bettendorf forum presented by state agencies – “I Wasn’t Born Yesterday!”

Bettendorf.  The Iowa Attorney General’s Office is warning Iowans to be wary of sweepstakes mailings that induce older Iowans to believe – falsely – that they may be close to winning a major sweepstakes prize, and that their chances of winning may go up if they order more merchandise or magazines. Older Iowans have sent thousands of dollars each to Publishers Clearing House or other sweepstakes promoters in the mistaken belief that they were close to winning a huge prize.

The new, statewide warning was issued for the first time at a forum conducted today in Bettendorf by three state agencies – the Iowa Insurance Division, the Iowa Department of Elder Affairs, and the Attorney General’s Office. The event is titled, “I Wasn’t Born Yesterday!” – Consumer Protection Tips from Your State Agencies, and it especially addressed financial and other issues relating to older Iowans. It was hosted by the Generations Area Agency on Aging.

The Attorney General’s representatives at the event were investigator Al Perales and Older Iowans Advocate Debra Moore, who conveyed the sweepstakes warning. Perales and Moore distributed both a "Consumer Advisory" bulletin, and a Flyer with the warning.

“Buying magazines or products does NOT increase your chance of winning,” they warned. “By law, sweepstakes prizes cannot be awarded on the basis of whether you purchase something.”

They also urged audience members not to believe “personalized” letters that might lead them to believe that sweepstakes representatives wanted them to win or they were close to winning.

The Attorney General’s Office representatives said that many Iowans in their 70s, 80s and 90s receive repeated sweepstakes mailings from Publishers Clearing House, and that many get the strong, and wrong, impression that they are close to winning -- and that ordering more magazines or merchandise could make the difference.

Iowans of advanced age have sent Publishers Clearing House and other sweepstakes operations several thousand dollars in a single year, and, for some Iowans, such payments go on year after year.

In one example, a 79-year-old Burlington man received 162 sweepstakes mailings from Publishers Clearing House in a two-year period, and he responded by spending more than $4,000 ordering products. Most of the merchandise was stacked, unopened, in his home and garage.

Perales and Moore showed a videotape of the Burlington man’s home showing stacks of material he purchased from sweepstakes promotions. Most was not used or even opened.

Many of those present at the “I Wasn’t Born Yesterday!” event were activists and advocates for older Iowans. The Attorney General’s Office appealed to them to help older Iowans who might be victims of misunderstanding ‘pitches’ from Publishers Clearing House or other companies.

Friends, relatives and care-givers were encouraged to step in if they spotted various warning signs that older Iowans were vulnerable to sweepstakes solicitations:

  • The older Iowan receiving a substantial number of sweepstakes solicitation mailings.
  • The older Iowan receiving a large volume of magazine or other product purchases from a sweepstakes promoter. The items purchased may be given away as gifts or may be stored unopened or unused.
  • The older Iowan having a preoccupation with winning a major prize. For example, calendars may be marked with the date of the next big give-away, or several hours a week may be devoted to responding to sweepstakes mailings.
  • The older Iowan having difficulty paying bills or covering expenses. The volume of orders may be siphoning off too much of a person's fixed income, or the consumer may be ignoring a developing financial crisis because he or she is convinced that the Prize Patrol will soon be delivering a big check.

Perales and Moore urged anyone to contact the Consumer Protection Division if they discover someone sustaining significant sweepstakes losses 888-777-4590 (toll-free) or 515-281-5926. The web site is The office is looking into the situation and would welcome information from Iowans. It also may be able to give helpful advice or assistance to consumers including advice on removing persons from sweepstakes mailing lists.


Attorney General’s Consumer Advisory bulletin for April 2007:

“Warning: Sweepstakes Mail Threatens Older Iowans”

Attorney General’s Office flyer, March 30, 2007:

“Warning!  Sweepstakes can be Hazardous to the Financial Health of Older Iowans.”

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