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Consumers deceived by ad are entitled to refund, court finds


ANNAPOLIS -- Reversing a lower court's ruling, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals has upheld the right of the state attorney general's Consumer Protection Division to obtain reimbursement of travel expenses for thousands of consumers lured by deceptive ads to visit campgrounds where they were given a sales pitch.

Millions of advertising notices were mailed to Marylanders by Outdoor World from 1984 to at least 1989, saying they had won or were eligible for prizes such as a Chevy Blazer or $10,000 in cash, and could claim them at one of the company's campgrounds in Pennsylvania or Virginia.

But when people arrived to collect the prizes, according to the consumer protection office, "they learned that they would first have to take a tour . . . and listen to a sustained and aggressive sales effort developed to sell them expensive memberships.

"The prizes, when finally given, were generally of little value."

In 1992, the Court of Special Appeals ruled that the agency could not order refunds for campground memberships, but that tens of thousands of Marylanders could be entitled to return of their travel expenses -- amounting to millions of dollars -- because Outdoor World's mailings violated the state Consumer Protection Act.

The case was remanded to the Baltimore Circuit Court, where Outdoor World challenged the division's authority and won a ruling in its favor last November from Judge Robert I. H. Hammerman.

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