The prize scam that says prize sucker

The prize scam that says prize sucker

Don't let this scam fool you into thinking you've won a great prize

Tony Levene

Rights, Scams and Politics

Tony Levene
Updated on 14 October 2010

Back in June, I received a phone call from India. Now, as regular readers know, that's nothing new. Because they get under the Telephone Preference Service radar intended to stop junk calls, I get them all the time.

But this one was not selling the usual debt management or injury claims services. Instead, it asked me to take part in market research. I'm inquisitive, so when the caller said it would only take four to five minutes - I said “yes”.

I soon suspected this was not real research. It did not mention any code of conduct. I was not quizzed as to my age, marital status, children, or occupation – all essentials for genuine market research.

Occupation is a special problem for me – journalists, along with advertising and public relations people are usually banned from market research because of the risk of a firm's plans leaking to rivals. So I'll let you into a secret. I lie. I tell them that I work in some other profession. It's my research.

But here we went straight into nothing deeper than first asking“ have you considered buying product xxx” followed up by “would you like information?” These dozens of questions went from conservatory blinds to cars to charities .

Twenty minutes and hundreds of mind-numbing sales questions later, I put the phone down. Nothing lost except my time.

I forgot about this phone encounter until this week when I received a letter that started: “Dear Mr Levene, Do you recall taking part in a telephone survey?”

Well, now you mention it, I did.

The letter continued: “As a result I am pleased to confirm that you are now eligible to receive a prize or award.”

I should have thought “wonderful” but alarm bells rang. I've won prizes for journalism and even something in a local charity raffle. But I know you can't win anything without entering.

So what were these prizes or awards (I really don't understand the difference)?

There was £25,000 in cash, a £10,000 car, other cash prizes, laptops and digital cameras. Sounds good?

Then I noticed the letter came from Unclaimed Prize Register, a Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire firm owned by McIntyre & Dodd Marketing which is, in turn, owned by DM plc, a company listed on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM). DM is currently in a legal dispute with the Office of Fair Trading over the wording of some prize award materials it sends out and its subsidiaries have received previous adverse adjudications from the Advertising Standards Authority. Last year, this firm reported profits up 11% at £3.48m.

There are two routes to getting a guaranteed prize. One – and this is DM's clear preference – is dialling a £1.50 a minute (more from mobiles) premium rate line for six minutes. That's £9.00.

Or you could apply by post enclosing two first class stamps – cheaper, but much slower. The letter uses phrases such as “quickly” “as soon as possible” and “immediately” to push the phone route.

Most people dial – they're curious and impatient. And almost everyone will “win” the digital camera. To get this, you then have to send a further £6.50 for postage and insurance (it's in the small print). That makes £15.50 so far.

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But what is this camera? Now if I could get a top Nikon or Canon or Olympus or Panasonic for £15.50, I would be really happy.

However, I have a sneaking suspicion that this camera (specification unknown) is not so advanced.

I found a site selling SpongeBob SquarePants cameras for £11.99. And there's much cheaper – especially for a bulk buyer like DM plc .

There's more small print. The prizes are spread over a number of mailings and a long time – this one only expires on December 31. And if no one claims the big prizes, then DM doesn't have to send out the money.

There's no way of knowing the odds – except you are almost bound to get the camera.

Your mobile will probably take better pictures – if not, Comet has a 10.2 megapixel and 5x optical zoom Samsung for £59.99.

Incidentally, I remember the Indian call centre asking me if I wanted to hear from Unclaimed Prize Register. I said no. It seems that made no difference.

Best junk this letter. Or you'll almost certainly end up with a big phone bill and a rubbish camera.

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