Responding to Lawsuits, AFP Works to Regain Public Trust

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Embattled magazine sweepstakes company American Family Publishers (AFP) has started a series of initiatives to reaffirm public faith in the company.

In a public statement, AFP, Jersey City, NJ, said it hopes the voluntary initiatives will let consumers become "even more informed and educated about our sweepstakes process." The company has been under scrutiny after several state attorneys general, lawyers and citizens filed lawsuits against it alleging that its practice of sending sweepstakes entries stating recipients are winners is deceptive.

AFP said that beginning in May -- or as soon as printing will permit -- its mailings will prominently display the company's consumer guarantees, such as the fact that it has and always will offer the lowest price available to the general public on all magazines, that all sweepstakes prizes are always awarded and that no purchase is ever required to enter.

"Although these guarantees have always been part of AFP's business practices," AFP said, "we will reaffirm and republicize them through prominent posting in our promotions as 'American Family Publisher's Promise to Consumers.' "

"AFP just thinks there has been some confusion about our promise among consumers," said spokeswoman Margot DeWitt, "and we just want to let them know that we have done these things in the past and we will continue to do these things in the future."

The Direct Marketing Association is working with AFP and other sweepstakes marketers to develop a comprehensive consumer protection program. AFP plans to advertise the program in the AARP Bulletin and in other magazines that reach the elderly or other concerned groups.

The company said it will establish a toll-free number and a Web site to provide information and answers to frequently asked questions about its policies and sweepstakes.

And, because some of the lawsuits allege that contestants who enter the sweepstakes without purchasing magazines are penalized -- either by having to follow a more complicated entry procedure, or by not being offered a chance to win at all -- AFP said it will "continue to widely and clearly repeat in all of its television advertising and mailings that no purchase is necessary to win."

In addition, the company will write to all customers who place an unusually large number of orders in a year, thanking them for their business and reminding them that no purchase is ever necessary to enter its sweepstakes.

Even though lawsuits are continuing -- including those filed by the Florida and Connecticut state attorneys general and several contestants in Alabama and Maryland -- DeWitt said "the company stands by the sweepstakes and its mailings."

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