This week, the New York Attorney General announced a settlement with PlasmaNet, the owner of FreeLotto.com, for using deceptive and misleading advertisements. Consumers can enter sweepstakes on FreeLotto.com for free if they agree to receive e-mails from PlasmaNet and visit the site every day. Consumers do not have to visit the site daily if they purchase the “FreeLotto Automatic Subscription Ticket” (“F.A.S.T.”) service, for $14.99 per month. With the F.A.S.T. service, consumers can program PlasmaNet to automatically enter the sweepstakes for them.
The Attorney General alleged that PlasmaNet sent misleading e-mails to FreeLotto.com players notifying them of “pending” prizes and directing them to claim their winnings. The players had not actually won these prizes — instead, they were unwittingly led to purchase the “F.A.S.T.” service. The Attorney General also alleged that PlasmaNet ran banner ads that falsely stated that a consumer had already won a prize. PlasmaNet did not, however, disclose that the consumer had to register with FreeLotto.com and agree to receive advertising from PlasmaNet in order to collect it.
Under the agreement, PlasmaNet will pay $1.5 million in penalties, costs, and fees and will make refunds available to eligible consumers over the next six months. PlasmaNet must also significantly reform its advertising practices.
This settlement serves as a good reminder that companies need to clearly and conspicuously disclose the material terms and conditions of their offers and that they cannot hide costs in the fine print. Also remember that consumers cannot be required to pay money to enter sweepstakes and that it is unlawful to give any advantage to people who enter by making a payment.