The prize letter said Pat Paddack and his wife, Diane, had won a Lincoln Town Car. They had only to travel to a Pennsylvania campground to claim it.
At first, they couldn't believe it, said Mr. Paddack, a former mayor of Hagerstown. "We read this thing 50 times before we called," he recalled.
However, when they arrived at the campground, there was no car -- only a high-pressure sales pitch and a set of steak knives.
The Paddacks were among 100,000 Maryland families lured to the Outdoor World Corp.'s Pennsylvania and Virginia campgrounds on the false promise that they had won expensive automobiles, televisions or cash prizes, said Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.
Yesterday, Mr. Curran announced that Outdoor World had paid the state $2.6 million to end a six-year legal battle with Maryland's Consumer Protection Division over "deceptive advertising."
A portion of the money will be used to refund the "redemption fees" that 18,000 Maryland consumers paid Outdoor World to claim their prizes, said Lucy A. Weisz, deputy chief of the Consumer Protection Division. The fees -- which are illegal in Maryland -- ranged from $15 to $120.
The remainder of the money will go to the state treasury.
As part of a settlement, the Bushkill, Pa.-based company also promised to revise its direct mail advertising to clarify that prizes are not guaranteed, Mr. Curran said.
"To the average reader of one of these letters, you actually believed you had won one of these prizes," Mr. Curran said. "Then, after you get there and sit through a six-to-seven-hour sales pitch, you find out there aren't any cars or cash prizes. You've won a cheap hibachi or a plastic clock."
Phony prize solicitations generate the second-most complaints to the Consumer Protection Division, Ms. Weisz said. Last year, the division received about 900 such complaints, compared with about 1,300 automotive-related complaints, she said.
Between 1986 and 1988, Outdoor World sent more than 6 million prize letters to Maryland consumers. Those letters generated more than 1,000 complaints to the Consumer Protection Division, including one from Mr. Paddock.
The Consumer Protection Division filed suit against Outdoor World in 1989. In addition to seeking an end to the ads, the state asked Outdoor World to pay refunds to Maryland consumers who were pressured into purchasing memberships. However, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals later ruled that the Maryland attorney general did not have jurisdiction over sales in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania officials have reached a separate settlement with Outdoor World that provides additional refunds to consumers who purchased memberships as a result of the "prize" solicitation.
Anyone who has a complaint about an Outdoor World membership can contact the Pennsylvania Consumer Affairs Bureau at (717) 963-4913.