Anatomy of a Vague Sweepstakes

One of the things about the mail is that there will always be something from the Reader’s Digest or Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes chum mills in it at least once a year.  Lately, there have been new companies that don’t even bother with the subtleties of pretending to be a legitimate business or offering any sort of actual service, and there’s one “company” that takes this conceit to the next level.  Well, it’s actually not one company – this sweepstakes mill is more like a hundred companies, but they all point to being small parts of a grand ripoff.

The company goes by National Awards Commission, Westport Enterprises and a hundred other names with different mailboxes in Las Vegas, Kansas City, and Rogers, Minnesota.  The spiel is always the same – here’s a check for $1,000,000 or other large sum if you send the letter by this date while buying some product of vague description, if you have the winning number.  Here, “National Awards Commission” is selling a coupon book good for “over $2,500” of “savings” from “certain participating establishments.”  If that’s not enough, the PRE-SELECTED WINNING NUMBER IS VERIFIED!  At least Reader’s Digest gifts readers with its edited book anthologies and other bits of assorted junk, though the company uses negative billing to make people pretend that they’re obligated to pay anything for things they weren’t asked for.  Here, you pay some “acquisition fee” for some vaguely defined national…something – in this case, a coupon booklet.  God knows who might be stupid enough to fall for this, but that’s why these insta-companies exist.  You’re supposed to fall for it.

The greatest part of these letters is the rules and regulations slips, with the occasional badly edited space or bit of bizarre English that suggests that the letters may be foreign in origin.  A PNG of the actual official rules for this sweepstakes is there for you to peruse, but there are a few bits of comedy gold here that I can’t get enough of.  Prepare yourself…FOR BULLSHIT!

Doesn’t that fill you with pride?  The chances of winning the Grand Prize are not to exceed one in 300 million!  Essentially, that means there’s only one “Grand Prize.”  Earlier versions of this letter have the typical odds for prize payouts, with that deathless “odds of winning $1: 1:1” line that always puts an angry smile on my face.  Here, National Sweepstakes Pretense doesn’t even do that – it’s just one grand prize for essentially the well-off parts of North America.  In fact, wording is so vague here that this line could suggest that the odds of winning can be one in 500,000,000 or one in infinity, but not one in 299,999,999 or anything approaching fairness.  Hell, the company can “draw” a number that no one has, and nothing can be legally done about this.  It’s all predetermined.  The odds are better of suddenly becoming a bloody buzz site, and the odds of that happening are what?  1:49,999,999?  Really, now.

Here’s the part where the discount coupon book is discussed.  I love lines like “purchases are required at time of redemption to receive the full benefit of the discount coupons.”   Oh, using the coupons is the only way to benefit from them?  No shit?  Never mind the fact that no one knows what the hell the coupons are good for.  Oh wait, they’re good for “hotel, car rental and cruise discounts.”  The way this is worded, the coupons are also good for restaurants, trips and amusement parks.  Neat!  So National Fake Contest Shillers’ coupon book gives you actual businesses?  That is one powerful coupon book.  I must send my $14.89 post-haste.  Might as well send a voided check, so National Westport Dummy Corporation can continue to leech off my bank account.  What do I need with money?

Here’s where the Engrish starts to show.  In this linked picture, the general conditions start off well, but what this part of the rules seems to say is that the Sweepstakes can be terminated if “compromised for any reason.”  There’s the bit about administration, security etc., but the sponsor can just theoretically stop the contest if a legislative body decides to look into the legality of it, since the terms are written so vaguely.  Considering the “National Awards Commission” has one PO Box, “Westport Enterprises” has another and this sweepstakes is similar to the other five hundred that came through the mail this week, this has the markings of a scam.  The contest could be shut down, and the schmucks that paid $14.89 for a coupon book would be left with a coupon book and no chance to win.  After all, this is junk mail.

Here’s the best line of all:

With odds like that, how can you lose?  No one but National Thingy Bit knows what the criteria are for drawing this number, and it’s predetermined anyway.  It makes the whole concept of actually running a contest moot.  You’ve already paid the $14.89 (or not, like it matters how legitimate this business is), and the lack of obligation to enter means the coupon book is separate from the promotion itself.  All anyone’s doing by entering this contest is subjecting oneself to more mailing lists, since this is just one giant address farm.  One letter sent to National Address Farm seems to be all this company needs, a confirmation that one wants more of these letters sent constantly.  Why anyone enters is ridiculous.  The odds are terrible, the presentation is even more unconvincing than sweepstakes like this usually are, and the mailings are incessant.  If this sort of sweepstakes lasts longer than the year or so it ought to, I’ll be surprised.

At least “Westport Enterprises” is honest about the purpose of this sweepstakes.  I’m placated by the cut and paste job done on this rules sheet, really.  Yeah, this company’s real legitimate.  Assuredly Westport will be around forever in some form, as long as someone wants to make a fast buck off the burgeoning idiot populace.  Truly, there will be no end to these sweepstakes, not even when humanity evolves into the sentient humanoid armadillo race it is destined to become.

C. Archer
Le Social