09 March 2008

How many "sweepstakes" does it take to get to the center of a sucker?

Just over two months ago, I entered the latest "Publishers Clearing House" sweepstakes. I didn't buy anything, but that's neither here nor there.

I also didn't expect to win one thin dime. Nor one tarnished penny, either. I know there's a better chance that George W. Bush will grow a functioning cerebrum ... Hillary Clinton will grow a functioning heart ... gas prices will go back to beginning with a "1" ... or that we'd get a freeway connector from Rincon into Savannah ... but anyway ...

The other day I received in the mail an "official"-looking envelope. The return address read: SWEEPSTAKES CLEARINGHOUSE DEPARTMENT OF NOTIFICATIONS

To the right of the address window read: "OFFICIAL NOTIFICATION - PLEASE REPLY IN 10 DAYS."

In the words of Jack Benny, "Well."

Did I win? Did I win??

Holy shitzu on a swiszle, I tore into the contents faster than Puddy into an unattended garbage bag, and had a gander at said envelope's payload.

The cover letter -- "Official Prize Award Directive" -- indicated that I, Talmadge Q. Gleck, "have been awarded a consolation prize in the TEN MILLION DOLLAR SWEEPSTAKES CLEARINGHOUSE GIVEAWAY."

That's funny, I distinctly remember entering the Publishers Clearing House contest, but not the one for Sweepstakes Clearinghouse.

How in cotton-pickin' tarnation can somebody win a contest they did not enter??!!

What seems to have happened is that PCH has "sold", "rented" or otherwise "donated" my name to this outfit, which then goes into action notifying people like us that we've "won." There's no other plausible explanation; I haven't gotten these things in a long time. And I hadn't entered PCH (or any other sweepstakes) in a long time, either. The timing here is a little too suspect.

In any case, the enclosed letter -- oops, "Directive" -- went on to tell me the prizes I have "won." (I'll explain in a moment) And the 'Directive' ended by stating, "Prizes like this have the power to change people's lives."

Great McMahon on a can of Alpo, it sure as heck changed MINE.

Included with this letter were several "checks", six in all -- and, true to form, one showed up in the address window, with "PAY TO THE ORDER OF" clearly laid out in order to be visible within the window.

"Oooooh, a check!" *squeal*

Of course, what doesn't show up are the words to the right of all six of these "pseudo financial instruments": NON-NEGOTIABLE. NOT A CHECK.

They're all $400.00 vouchers, good toward purchase of six corresponding items in the mailing.

They are, as follows:
  1. RCA Home Stereo System with Surround Sound. $579.95 value.

  2. Dell® Desktop Computer with software and FREE internet. $699.95 value.

  3. "Masterpiece®" Matching Diamond Watch Set. $469.95 value.

  4. Dell® Laptop Computer with software and FREE internet. $779.95 value.

  5. Ultralite® 5-piece Expandable Luggage Collection. $479.95 value.

  6. DVC™ Megapixel Digital Camcorder Package. $549.95 value.
Good Mother Mary on a Marx Big Wheel, Seraphim and I were fixin' to be showered with some mighty quality merchandisin'. I felt like a contestant on Press Your Luck.

Only The Whammy was real.

Each of these items were represented with the aforementioned "vouchers" which took $400.00 off each of the list prices shown above.

Let's do the math:
  • RCA stereo system (curiously, the only brand name listed here without one of the ubiquitous trademark symbols) ... after the $400 voucher, it's being offered to me for $179.95.

  • Dell desktop computer .... after-voucher price: $299.95.

  • "Masterpiece" watch set ... after-voucher price: $69.95.

  • Dell laptop computer ... after-voucher price: $379.95.

  • Ultralite luggage set ... after-voucher price: $79.95.

  • DVC digital camcorder ... after-voucher price: $149.95.
Now let us review the above pricing. First, the RCA stereo:

This thing is little more than a "mini-bookshelf" system inside a fake-wood-veneer cabinet. I've seen these cheesy stereos selling for as little as 100 bucks, and the cabinet selling for $50. Go to Big Lots, and you'll probably find both.

First, it plays cassettes. What the hell are these "cassettes"? Oh yeah, almost forgot ... they're about the size of iPods, but they're also known for puking brown silly-string when they get sick. No, thanks.

The speakers (yeah, they look big, but I'll betcha inside each one is a single cone no bigger than three inches diameter!) promise "full concert hall sound, producing music the way it was meant to be heard."

If that's how music is supposed to be heard, then go ahead and drive rusty nails into my ear canals, I wanna be deaf.

That RCA system is a descendant of the 1980s "Yorx" stereo systems. You know the ones, they had molded plastic on the front to make it appear like it's a stacked, matched component system. 20 slide controls gave the illusion of a 20-band equalizer. Guess again -- five of the slides are connected ... one for volume, another for balance, then bass and treble. Sucker.

And RCA? I mean, come on -- it's a long way from their days pioneering radio and color television. It's no longer a standalone company; today RCA electronics are made by Thomson, and their products don't exactly rate too well in Consumer Reports. Something pesky, like "high repair rate."

Next is the Masterpiece watch set. His 'n' hers with "gold, diamonds and onyx." Oh, my. The fine print says "one-point diamonds." Are we supposed to mistake that for "one-KARAT"? Now I'm no diamond expert, nor am I that much of a watch-geek, but even I know something's not quite right here.

And "made of genuine Swiss parts"??!! That's an insult to some of the world's finest people! I wonder just what the good folk of Helvetia, WV would have to say about this.

I believe I'll pass. Wal-Mart has better deals on watches by reputed names like Timex, which cost far less than the 70-buck price tag above. And they actually work.

Then we had the "Ultralite® 5-piece Expandable Luggage Collection." Expandable? Well, DUHHH!! EVERY luggage set is "expandable" -- you just buy more suitcases, genius!

And the way it looked in the flyer ... no fancier than the luggage set we bought in 2001 at Office Depot (of all places!) for, I believe, right at - if not less than - the stated net price of $79.95. What's more, our set is still going strong. I somehow doubt this "Masterpiece" set would've gone that distance. (that's a joke, son)

"Masterpiece" is an underrated 1973 Temptations hit song. Not a name I think of when I'm entertaining a luggage investment.

More electronics? You betcha. Here's something sure to swoon the heart of every videophile from Tiger Ridge to Tuscumbia: The DVC™ Megapixel Digital Camcorder Package. Click on the image for a bigger view .... this baby contains the astonishing amount of 32 MEGABYTES of built-in memory. Enough for 320 still images.

Ummmm, that does not compute. Inside our 8.3 megapixel Fuji camera is a 2-gig SD card. Big enough to hold just over 500 full-tilt pictures. I'd say 32 MEGAbytes (that's soooo 1999!) will hold maybe eight (8) pictures at 12 MP resolution. Ahhh, but the small print reads "max resolution." Hmmmmm...

Something else that does not compute, either: the brand name. I've heard of JVC, of course. But what in sam-hill is this DVC™ -- Diablo Valley College? Disney Vacation Club?

Yes, there seems to be a company called DVC™. "Imaging solutions for science and industry." It appears to be a manufacturer of digital cameras for medical and other professional applications. No wonder I'd never heard of it until I Google'd the name.

But what about this "DVC" camcorder? Is it a top-of-the-line "boutique" subsidiary of Coby? Or Broksonic? Names you see all over places like Fred's and Dollar General, places that make Wal-Mart look like a high-end stereo salon.

At the price of $150 after the voucher, I'd pass. It claims to be advertised in Popular Photography magazine. I can't vouch for that one, though.

Vouch. Heh heh ... um ... heh?

Do yourself a favor, and pick up an entry-level brand-name camcorder at Best Buy, which usually start at around $250. Another $100 spent, and you save a lot of heartache and lost video.

And the "$400 in software" I don't even want to think about. Most of 'em look like freeware programs, outdated, unsupported versions of established applications, or, worse, "teaseware."

Then there are the computers. Dude, you're gettin' a démodé Dell.....

$300 for a desktop, and $380 for the laptop. A "hither-and-yon" computing package for less than 700 bucks out-of-pocket.

Sounds too good to be true, right?

Well, it is.

These ARE computers. One's a desktop and the other a laptop. ("One of these things is not like the other" / "C is for computer, that's good enough for me")

But, just for grins, let's examine the small-print.

For one thing, these are "open stock." Meaning, people have returned 'em. Ahhhhh, but also there's potential lurking in those hard drives .... passwords ... online banking logins .... illicit e-mails the wife sends to her online boyfriend who fathered her chil ..... um, er, anyway ... these are returns. Not new items. But think of the financial/blackmail bonanza that awaits the lucky recepient. [provided the recepient actually gets to BE the recepient.....]

Now, if all that doesn't faze you, consider the specifications:

1.6 GHz Pentium-4. If that's not enough retro for you, then you'll just thrill to the 3.5" disk drive (holds an amazing 1.44 MB of data), and -- get ready to have an orgasmic thrill -- A 20 GIGABYTE HARD DRIVE.

Good gravy, the computer we bought in 2000 -- eight years ago, for those counting -- had a 30-gig hard drive on it.

But the speakers. FULL STEREO SOUND. Folks, I'm drooling ... I'm getting rather fatigued with the "mono reprocessed to simulate stereo" output from this 14-month-old HP Pavilion desktop.

And with 256 MB of RAM, you'll be stuttering your way through at least two multitasked processes.

Oooooh, then there's also the free internet. Free. Internet. Yeppers, 1,000 hours/45 days of free AOL. Sheyettfahr, I didn't know AOL still offered dialup service for new customers. Good night, and pleasant dreams; that 2 MB picture might be all downloaded when you wake up in the morning.

All right, already, here's something positive: it has Windows XP. That beats the fool durn out of Vista (one BIG reason I replaced our desktop a year ago December was the impending release of Vista -- I wanted XP Media Center 2005 while I could still get it. XP MC05 is a surprisingly stable OS for a Micro$oft product).

Now, here's the boilerplate for the laptop:
The Toshiba laptop that we got for Seraphim back in August '06 has a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor. This thing has a PENTIUM-3 ... I think they were selling those when I was still living in Troy. And check out the hard drive size on this thing: TEN WHOPPING GIGABYTES. (our laptop has a 120 GB hard drive on it .... and, for that matter, our HP desktop has a 250-gig HD onboard).

Both of these things have "CD-ROM included", but nothing is said about a burner. This isn't 1998, people; a CD burner - at the very least - is crucial to a computer system in 2008.

You'd be way better off taking your chances with Blue Hippo. A scary thought in and of itself.

Wholly Mozzes, the levels some people will stoop. It's a fishing expedition, and the sobering reality is that there are enough "stupid people" who fall for these things to more than pay the freight of sending all these mailings.

One clue to look for, in the event a "stupidperson" happens upon this blog: the postage. It was metered "pre-sorted standard" at a postage rate of 18.5 cents. Contest winners are never notified via pre-sorted mail, people. Get a clue. Buy two vowels, and then guess C and L.

This outfit has a website, too. Take a look at some of the "winners." Yeeeeeeesh.

I said it recently, and it bears mentioning again: the movie Idiocracy is getting dangerously close to life imitating art.

For some reason, I have a craving for some Carl's, Jr. EXTRA BIG-ASS FRIES!!!!!!

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "The sucker stops here" Gleck


Nancy said...

THank you for saving me a bunch of work! I was going to put together a statement of facts regarding this BOGUS sweepstakes similar to yours. Now I don't have to do the homework and the explaining, you've done all the hard work! I am appalled that this kind of crap is allowed to be sent out, because there are some people that, not because they are dumb, but simply cause they have no idea, would believe this malarchy. The people in charge of this sweepstakes should be thrown in jail for larceny and fraud.

Talmadge G. said...

But, of course, they won't. Those bottom-feeders are small enough to hide behind small print and big enough to get away with it.

Fortunately, the internet has provided a tool for investigating the bullhockey. Trouble is, too many aren't smart enough to use it. They're the ones who buy Viagra from spam e-mails.

Katherine said...

Ditto! I got mine in the mail yesterday. My husband knows enough about computers and he looked at the Dell options and simply went, "What the h*ll kind of bargain is that!?!" LOL. After looking at the rest we realized the rest was the same.

Much thanks for you explanations though. It certainly solidified our answer. We let our 2 year old play with the papers until they were scraps and then she enjoyed throwing them in the garbage can one at a time.

Chana Rochel said...

Thank you for the info! Do you know how much the DVC digital Camcorder is actually worth? I can't locate it online; did you?

About 2.5 decades ago I got a similar voucher offer for $200 for a 5 or 6-piece luggage set. My share was about $70. (In those days there was no googling for info, and I was much younger then...) I got the luggage: it was blue plastic! The truth is, however, I used the stuff for years, carting around 17 big-band music books; the plastic was actually fairly durable. I was not stuff that I'd ever go and purposely buy, but I did get some use of it. (On the other hand, my family was really embarrassed when I would use it to travel.)

Talmadge Gleck said...

Chana: I wasn't able to find that camcorder anywhere else except on blogs or other comment sites pertaining to this 'sweepstakes' scam.

Going by what knowledge I have about this stuff, I'd say something like this would be worth, ohhhh, $75 or so. And certainly not the "after-voucher" price of $150.

You're right, 25 years ago, we didn't have the resources to validate stuff we got in the mail. The internet has made these hucksters have to work harder.

outfctrl said...

Thank you for your research in this sweepstakes scam. I was looking at the camcorder. Googled it but came up with zilch until I found your site.

THANKS AGAIN!! You saved me some money