Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Publishers’ Clearing House and United States Purchasing Exchange

For years, my mother received a steadily escalating stream of packages. In the early nineties, when she was still living in Hot Springs, I started seeing a lot of boxes from United States Purchasing Exchange. Mother’s only explanation was that it was a noble entity with the lofty purpose of opening up trade with China. Years later, stumbling upon an invoice, I noticed that USPE had a sweepstakes. Of course!

That Publisher's Clearing House has long targeted the elderly is widely known. Mother ordered much more than magazines from PCH; she ordered all manner of junky stuff, with several boxes often arriving in a single day. She quickly stashed them under a bed, in a closet or in the garage before we could notice them (or so she thought). The Prize Patrol's arrival was always two weeks or thirty days or sixty days away.

Even as early as 1991, Mother's credit card bills revealed that she was spending around $400 per month on orders from USPE, Michigan bulb, and PCH. Multiple orders to Michigan Bulb in a single day were not unusual. Later on, the list grew to include sweepstakes run by such venerable brands as Reader's Digest and American Express.

Can you guess what our Christmas presents were like? Cheap jewelry, flimsy kitchen paraphernalia....

Once I gained control of my mother’s mail in 2004, my sister and I returned 16 packages to PCH in the first two weeks alone. When I cleared out the house to sell it in 2005, every nook and every cranny of every room, closet, piece of furniture, and the garage that didn’t contain boxes of junk mail were filled with thousands of dollars worth of these trinkets, many of them still in unopened packages.

United States Purchasing Exchange and Michigan Bulb went out of business, but Publisher's Clearing House is still going strong.


thaarielle said...

My mom was someone who also ordered from USPS a lot back in the 90's to when it shut down. Before she was placed in assisted living about a year ago, she was ordering a lot of crap from Handsome Rewards, Carol Wright Gifts, Starcrest (which is the same company as Handsome Rewards). From what I was able to add up, she spent around a couple hundred a month. A lot of the packages were never opened let alone used. I was able to get refunds for some of the stuff where I found the receipts. Also I donated a lot of this stuff since neither her or I would be using any of these things.

What I learned is that it's not all that uncommon for elderly widows and especially those who are isolated. My mom moved to USA when she married my dad and never quite adapted to life here. After my dad died in late 1995, she got more isolated and more desolate so you can say she turned to shopping and hoarding. Now that she is in assisted living, she is doing a lot better yet does ask for some of the items she had left behind once in a while.

To understand more about this sickness, I would suggest checking out articles relating to extreme hoarding and to watch the Dr Phil episode on extreme hoarding.

"Ernie" said...

My experience with USPE and Publisher's Clearing House, particylarly USPE, goes back about 17 years, to when my elderly father did EXCATLY what you both have referred to. On his death, I brought ALL THE JUNK back to my home in Annapolis, MD, laid it out and took pictures before donating it to an assisted living facility. However, my dad kept meticulous records and files of his purchases, and I laid them all out along with copiess of cancelled checks. I cataloged it all into a package and sent it to 60 Minutes which was doing a series of exposes on the "fleecing of the elderly" at that time. Since my husband and I both went to Syracuse University at the same time Steve Kroft did, I hoped that link might get someone's attention. When on nothing hapened, I sent it to Andy Rooney hoping that it might catch HIS attention. No response again. I bellieve I finally threw all the paperwork away, and never thought about the strength of the internet until today when I happened to see a brief report on a woman who felt she got taken advantage of at a Brueggers Bagels. She immediately posted on Twitter and had a resopnse from Brueggers in about 10 minutes. And they sent her several coupons as a result. This scamming of the elderly and the isolated, many like my father who could ill afford the money, should be stopped. And I am now as riled up about it as I was in the mid-90's. The first thing I am going to do is see if I can find any records or copies; and then proceed full bore. As they say, "Hell hath no fury than a woman scorned!" I'm feeling the rejuvenated energy on this subject. Suggestions much appreciated.

Charles Nesby Jr said...