DMA, USPIS Launch Initiative to Help Consumers Avoid Sweepstakes Scams

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NEW YORK -- The Direct Marketing Association and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service announced a nationwide consumer-education initiative yesterday telling Americans how to avoid being scammed by fraudulent sweepstakes.


"The legitimate sweepstakes specify that no purchase is needed to win and buying a product will not increase the chances of winning," Lee R. Heath, chief postal inspector, said during a press conference yesterday at DM Days New York. "This consumer-awareness campaign points out the characteristics of fraudulent promotions to help limit the number of victims of these scams."


Heath said thousands of Americans receive sweepstakes offers daily, and "many legitimate businesses, such as Publishers Clearing House, use these offers to generate excitement about their products and services that they offer to consumers. But there are some out there who are trying to make a quick buck at the expense of the public, disguising their scams as sweepstakes."


The campaign was launched even though direct mail-based sweepstakes fraud has not increased recently, according to Heath, and the Deceptive Mail Prevention and Enforcement Act went into effect in December 2000. This law says mailings must clearly state that a purchase is not necessary to enter a sweepstakes and that a purchase will not improve the chances of winning.


"Consumer education is ongoing," said Pat Kachura, senior vice president of consumer affairs at the DMA, who also spoke at the press conference. "Every year, so many people turn 18 ... it's a new audience all the time."


The campaign does not address Internet scams, though the USPIS said it plans to begin a campaign focusing on this topic in October.


Heath mentioned an investigation that started earlier this year after the USPIS became aware of hundreds of calls from people nationwide regarding a solicitation that congratulated them on winning a sweepstakes prize.


"Over 10 million of the solicitations were mailed out to the public," he said. "There was only one catch: The winners had to send a fee, ranging from $20 to $25, for processing costs to collect their prize money. No legitimate offer will have to pay anything to collect a prize. And in this case, there is no prize."


Funded by the USPIS from fines levied against convicted felons nationwide for other fraud scams, the campaign includes radio spots, print articles and magazine ads. The effort will run for three to four months.


An ad campaign in several popular consumer magazines will appear this month. Also, 30,000 consumer alerts were placed in stamp orders by the postal service's stamp fulfillment center in Kansas City, MO, this month.


Melissa Campanelli covers postal news, CRM and database marketing for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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