Two Florida-based companies that recently flooded Maryland with 50,000 to 100,000 mailed promotional leaflets have been accused by the Maryland attorney general's office of violating state consumer law by offering "gifts" for which recipients must actually pay a fee.
The consumer protection division of the attorney general's office set a cease-and-desist hearing here for Dec. 16 and 17 on the administrative charges against the firms, American Testing Institute and United States Testing Authority, both of Miami.
The leaflets, mailed early this month, told recipients they were entitled to one of 20 kinds of gifts ranging from $2,000 cash to a Sony Betamax video recorder by filling out and returning a survey form on their television viewing habits.
The mailout says "no . . . payment of service is required," but at another point it directs recipients to include $14.80 to cover "shipping, handling, postage, printing and administration of this testing procedure."
The attorney general's office said this amounts to deceptive advertising.
The office was alerted to the mailout early this month when it started receiving complaints and other calls, now totaling more than 200, from residents across the state, especially in the Salisbury and Cumberland-Hagerstown areas, said assistant Attorneys General Gary Kolb and William Leibovici.
Edmond Frank, an attorney for American Testing, said in a telephone interview today that the mailout language was "unfortunate" and that steps are being taken to change the format to make it clearer that the recipient does not have to pay the $14.80 fee to get a gift. "The company will attempt to correct any violation of Maryland law," he said. "It certainly never intended to violate any laws."
The mailout formats by both American Testing Institute and United States Testing Authority are similar, but Frank said the companies are separate entities.
He estimated 50,000 to 100,000 mailouts were sent to Maryland this month. Thousands more were sent to other states, and the U.S. Postal Service has filed civil complaints elsewhere, accusing the two firms of conducting an illegal lottery.