Most people have a tendency to be rather trusting. After all, life is hard enough without being paranoid about what other people might do to take advantage of you. But trust and caution are two totally different things. When Time, Inc. came out with their American Family Sweepstakes program as a way to promote the magazine industry, it seemed like a great idea and changed the lives of many people. But the minute scammers took the concept to a new level it was time for caution to guide decisions.
There are many legitimate sweepstakes companies, but even they have mastered the art of deception. Every word, picture, and phrase is designed to get an individual to buy something they don’t really want. However, con artists have taken this concept to a new level in that their documents look official making them very difficult to tell from the real thing.
Frequently these types of scams are targeted toward the most vulnerable groups, seniors, in that they suffer from social isolation due to breakdowns in social networks. Those with cognitive and perceptual impairments are particularly susceptible. These sweepstakes promise the hope of friendship and a concern for their welfare. Little do they know that the odds of actually winning are only 1 in 50 million and that’s for those that are legitimate. For scam artists, there is often no intent of paying anything to anyone and there are no prizes.
Publishers Clearing House conducts an annual analysis of its sweepstakes program in order to determine the age of the average buyer and how much they spend. This is because those who participate often feel like the more they buy the better their chances of winning. For example, the average age of players in 1997 was 74 who spent, on average, $3800. Those who were over 65 accounted for over 30% of the national average with some spending over $10,000 during a single game.
Those playing with unscrupulous sweepstakes scammers are often devastated when informed they have won only to find out they were, instead, duped. Con artists send letters informing players they may be a winner and to be sure to be home to claim the prize. Despite the party atmosphere, however, they wait in vain throughout the day only to find they did not win. This can be extremely embarrassing especially for those who believe the hype and go to great lengths to share it with family and friends.
It’s important to remember that once purchases are made, participants are then put on a “sucker list” through which “double scamming” becomes the goal. Not only is merchandize and magazine subscriptions often higher in price than directly through the companies that produce them, but if checking bank statements double and triple billing on the same order can often be found.
It’s important to note that ordering products does not increase the odds of winning with legitimate companies. In fact, of the 30 winners in the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes 23 ordered nothing. But even this company has its flaws and, after court action, agreed to pay $1.25 million for violations of consumer laws and illegal promotional tactics in various states. It’s important to remember that this is a billion dollar industry and scammers are finding it a very lucrative market because of the trusting nature of those who participate. This is one game where caution should rule decision making.