America's Choice Publishers Settles with GOCP to Resolve Problems with Deceptive Sweepstakes that Targeted the Elderly
ATLANTA, GA – John Sours, Administrator of the Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection (“GOCP”), today announced that America’s Choice Publishers, Inc. and its CEO, Chris Sidhilall, have entered into a settlement in response to allegations that they engaged in illegal and deceptive telemarketing activities in the course of selling magazine subscriptions.
GOCP alleges that America’s Choice Publishers and Sidhilall committed multiple violations of Georgia’s Fair Business Practices Act, including:
- Falsely representing to consumers that the purpose of the phone call was to advise consumers that they had been entered into a sweepstakes for a $5,000 prize, when the actual purpose of the call was to solicit magazine sales;
- Promoting a sweepstakes, when no such sweepstakes was actually held and no prizes were awarded until GOCP commenced its investigation;
- Implying that it was associated with or sponsored by publishers and credit card companies, when that was not the case;
- Using fictitious company names in an effort to convince consumers of the validity of its sweepstakes and ultimately induce them to buy magazine subscriptions;
- Engaging in abusive telemarketing practices as defined by the Federal Trade Commission’s Telemarketing Sales Rule by failing to promptly and clearly disclose the identity of the caller, the fact that the purpose of the call was to sell magazines, that no purchase or payment was necessary in order to win a prize, and that any purchase or payment would not increase the person’s chances of winning.
- Misinforming consumers regarding the company’s cancellation policy.
GOCP investigators found that a representative sample of the calls reflects that the majority of consumers targeted were over 60 years of age.
In resolution of these allegations, America’s Choice Publishers and Chris Sidhilall have entered into an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance which requires them to pay $90,000 to the State and to notify each consumer currently under contract with the company that he/she may cancel the remainder of the contract without penalty. The company has also agreed to submit to auditing and compliance measures over the next two years. If the company fails to comply with any terms of the Assurance during that two-year period, it must pay an additional $35,000 penalty fee.
“Deliberately deceptive telemarketing practices, especially those that target vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, will not be tolerated by our office,” says Administrator Sours.