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Publishers Clearing House Must Cooperate With Iowa Investigation

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JUNE 25, 2001 VOLUME 8, NUMBER 52

Sweepstakes solicitations have become a major financial problem for the elderly in America. Thousands of individuals send millions of dollars to promoters of get-rich-quick schemes every year. Spouses and other family members are often powerless to prevent the fleecing of gullible individuals as they send in check after check.

Although it was once easy to distinguish between legitimate business solicitations and outright scams, the distinction becomes less clear with every new example. The most venerable of sweepstakes promoters, Publishers Clearing House, was once respected as a clever and entertaining marketing technique. In the past three years even Publishers Clearing House has been investigated or sued by more than half the states for its business practices.

By law no purchase can be required before entry into a sweepstakes drawing. The promoter is prohibited from suggesting that a purchase will increase the chance of winning. Mass mailings often obscure that fact, however, and vulnerable seniors purchase thousands of dollars of useless items in a vain attempt to increase their sweepstakes odds.

That is why Iowa’s Attorney General Thomas Miller began a review of Publishers Clearing House. He found, for example, that one 83-year-old woman bought a number of videotapes and CDs (though she had neither a VCR player nor a CD player) and subscribed to over 40 magazines. His office issued a subpoena to Publishers Clearing House, seeking the names and amounts of purchases for any Iowan who spent over $200 during a two-year period.

Publishers Clearing House objected, saying that the cost of responding would be high (estimates were that the cost would be about $23,000), that much of the information had already been provided, and that the information was a “trade secret” and not subject to disclosure. The Attorney General filed suit in the Iowa courts seeking to enforce his subpoena.

The Iowa Supreme Court upheld the subpoena. The Court noted that Publishers Clearing House had acknowledged earning at least $1.9 million from Iowa residents during the questioned period, and decided that a $23,000 expense was small in comparison to that revenue.

Publishers Clearing House had provided lists of those who had purchased more than $1,000 in goods and services. They had not indicated the actual amount spent—instead breaking the list into categories and lumping all those spending more than $2,500 into a single group. That, ruled the Court, was not enough; Publishers Clearing House must disclose the information requested by the Iowa Attorney General. State ex rel. Miller v. Publishers Clearing House, May 31, 2001.

The Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling does not mean Publishers Clearing House must change its practices, but at least the Attorney General has the power to investigate whether the company is intentionally taking advantage of vulnerable seniors. Meanwhile investigations and lawsuits continue in a number of other states.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.