There are thousands of companies which use sweepstakes cards and letters to entice consumers to call 900 numbers. The California Attorney General, the attorneys general of other states, the Federal Trade Commission, and the postal inspectors have prosecuted many of these companies criminally and civilly, but most disappear before action can be taken. In addition, the companies seldom are found in the same state as the consumers, making prosecution difficult; they often hide their true ownership, and often act just inside the law.
In all sweepstakes, the card or letter must give you the opportunity to enter without cost. Sometimes that information is hidden, but it is always there. We advise consumers never to pay anything or buy anything to win a sweepstakes prize. If you are interested in the sweepstakes, always use the free entry.
The California Attorney General has entered into agreements with the telephone carriers, AT&T and MCI, which has resulted in the carriers refusing to bill California victims of 900 number companies which we have indicated violate California law. That is why consumer complaints are so important to us. When we receive a complaint which indicates a promotion is deceptive or unlawful or unfair, we contact the carrier and it stops billing for that promotion.
Our office has sponsored the strongest 900 number legislation in the country. We believe it will stop many 900 number practices. That legislation became effective in January 1993.
If you believe you have been deceived by a 900 number, write or call the carrier as soon as you receive the bill (a toll-free 800 number is on your bill). Your telephone service cannot be shut off for failure to pay for 900 number charges. Few people bother to complain and failure to complain encourages the continued operation of deceptive promotions. Also, you should file a complaint with the Attorney General's Office.