Information on Settlements

Q. I heard about your settlement with Publisher’s Clearing House. I bought magazines for years hoping I would win. Can I get any of my money back?

A: My agency sued Publishers Clearing House (PCH) in 1999, charging that the company misled consumers into believing they had already won a sweepstakes contest or that buying magazines would improve their chances of winning. Our investigation showed that most of the victims were elderly senior citizens.

In June of this year, Texas and 25 other states settled the lawsuit with PCH. Under the terms of the settlement, Publishers Clearing House must apologize for the harm caused by its deceptive marketing practices. The settlement also contains safeguards to protect future consumers by making it clear that making a purchase does not help their chances of winning the sweep stakes. In addition:

•PCH is prohibited from making any deceptive or misleading statements or omissions. PCH is also barred from implying anything that it would be prohibited from saying directly.

•PCH may not discriminate between consumers who order magazine subscriptions and those who do not.

• PCH must pay $1 million in civil penalties and $19 million in restitution to consumers who were deceived by its past marketing practices. In addition, the company will pay $14 million to Texas and the states involved in the litigation to cover the cost of the lawsuit and administering the restitution program.

If you believe you were harmed by the marketing practices used by Publisher’s Clearing House, you may file a complaint through my agency’s Consumer Protection Division (CPD). For more information about the complaint process and to obtain a consumer complaint form, contact CPD at (800) 621-0508. You can also fill out the form online by visiting the consumer protection section of our Web site at

Q: When I received my phone bill, I was shocked to find a $50 charge for a collect call from Mexico I know I didn’t accept. The bill shows that a company called ZPDI billed me for these charges. I heard you have taken legal action against this type of collect call charges. Is there any way I can get my money back?

A: The Office of the Attorney General has heard from hundreds of consumers, primarily with Hispanic last names, who were charged $50 or more for collect calls from Mexico. Many consumers reported that the person making the call claimed to be a relative and often used the same last name to convince the consumer that the call really was from a long-lost relative. Only after accepting the call did consumers realize they didn’t know the caller.

In other cases, consumers were billed for collect calls that supposedly took place when there was no one home to answer the phone. Charges for these calls were high also, often as much as $50.
After receiving and investigating hundreds of complaints, my office filed a lawsuit against Southwest Intelecom, Inc., a long distance company based in Austin, Texas. According to our lawsuit, Southwest Telecom paid agents in several states and Mexico to place long distance collect calls to consumers.

In addition, my office has filed an assurance of voluntary compliance (AVC) with Zero Plus Dialing, Inc. (ZPDI), the company that provided billing services for Southwest Intelecom. Consumers who were billed for these calls would often see the ZPDI logo on their phone bills.

As part of the AVC, ZPDI will reimburse all consumers who were wrongfully billed for collect calls originating in Mexico. Consumers have until September 25, 2001 to file a complaint with my office to request reimbursement. Consumers can request a complaint form by calling (800) 252-8011 or by visiting our Web site at