Iowa’s attorney general says Publishers Clearing House is scamming some elderly Iowans into buying hundreds of dollars worth of merchandise, thinking they’ll have a better shot at winning the company’s sweepstakes. Back in 2001 Publishers Clearing House agreed to change its mailings after Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and others uncovered several cases where elderly Iowans had bought thousands of dollars worth of stuff — believing they were improving their odds in the sweepstakes drawing.
"This is very frustrating for us as well to see this recur and when I say ‘this’ I mean the high activity customers that are almost all elderly," Miller says. "We’re going to take whatever action is necessary to make sure this doesn’t happen again." According to Miller, nearly 2,400 elderly Iowans each bought more than $5,000 worth of merchandise from Publisher’s Clearing House last year.
"They have unopened magazines, unopened books and other merchandise in a room. It fills the room. It fills the garage," Miller says. That’s what happened to Ken Reif’s uncle. The 91-year-old eastern Iowa man was spending so much on Publishers Clearing House merchandise that he was bouncing checks and couldn’t buy food, fill his prescriptions or get gas for his car.
"We were horrified," Reif says. "…I don’t really want to elaborate on some of the other things that happened, but there were occasions where he was not going somewhere because, ‘Hey, they’re going to be here Tuesday with my money (from) Publishers Clearing House.’ He had that much belief in the fact that it was going to happen."
With the help of the Attorney General’s office in 2001, Des Moines attorney Mike Heller got his father off the Publishers Clearinghouse mailing list. But then Heller’s parents moved and the solicitations started arriving in their new mailbox, and his 84-year-old dad has been buying stuff again, thinking it would help him win the big prize.
"The solicitations would lead a sophisticated purchaser to think that there was some opportunity or some inducement to possibly increase your odds of winning," Heller says. "…My parents are on a limited income. They worked hard. I hate to see their resources being used for something that frankly is of meaningless value in my opinion."
Heller says it is shocking to think that Publishers Clearing House is targeting his father, again, after the attorney general got the company to stop sending his dad solicitations a few years ago. "I’ve explained to my dad multiple times about how the odds aren’t affected if you make a purchase or you don’t, but when you get a solicitation saying that you’re going to win…it’s very tempting," Heller says. The attorney general says his staff may also go after Readers Digest for similar abuses.