Publishers Clearing House, which operates sweepstakes promotions nationwide, has agreed to pay $3.5 million to settle deceptive marketing charges brought by 32 states and the District of Columbia. The company also agreed to alter its marketing materials.

The settlement modifies the terms of a prior, but similar judgment reached in 2001. After reviewing recent consumer complaints and PCH promotional materials, investigators determined that consumers could still be confused by the nature and language of some of the companys subsequent sweepstakes promotional mailings.

The company had been accused of suggesting that making purchases through Publishers Clearing House would improve the odds of winning a cash prize.

This company just doesnt get it, said Vermont Attorney General William H. Sorrell, So as often as we need to take legal action to protect our citizens, well do so.

In addition to Vermont, the states participating in the settlement include Oregon, Nevada, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Colorado, Florida, Alaska, Pennsylvania, Idaho, Arizona, District of Columbia, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia.

Stronger provisions

The new agreement contains stronger provisions to ensure that consumers are not further misled or confused by the companys sweepstakes promotions, including greatly increased consumer surveys to ensure that consumers understand that purchasing does not increase their chances of winning a sweepstakes prize.

I have been entering this contest for many months, Mary, of Albany, Ohio, said in one of more than 840 complaints to last month. There's always a deadline for entering even though the contest does not end until Feb, 2012.It's just a scam to get you to buy.

This settlement will insure that Publishers Clearing House plays by the rules and does not exploit Oregonians, said Attorney General Kroger.

Under the terms of the settlement, Publishers Clearing House has agreed to:

• Change the language the company uses in its mailings that insinuated that the more consumers spend with Publishers Clearing House the more likely they are to win prizes;

• Not use some specific tactics, such as telling a recipient that his or her entry code has a key code for the winning entry;

• Cease using the tactic of sending a communication from the Board of Judges to indicate that the recipient is close to winning; and,

• Hire an ombudsman to review the companys solicitations on a quarterly basis.