The Blog

Want 89¢? You'll Only Have to Pay $20 For the Privilege!

We've all seen scams, we've all received and I dare to say many of us have fallen prey to scams. The only comfort after this is that you know your on the right side of the law and your scammer is on the wrong side, eventually (you hope) the law will catch up with them. But something interesting is happening across the pond.

It turns out in America it's entirely legal to scam people and people are. As long as you inform someone your scamming them, you can it seems. How dastardly brilliant and yet evil!

David Lazarus of the Los Angeles Times has found an offer which is seemingly the answer to your current financial woes and possibly a turn around in fortunes and luck. Hopefully you haven't received a letter from the "Chief Dispatch Officer" of a company called "Sentry Armored Dispatch" or if you have you read it closely and carefully.

If you run a quick Google search for the companies name "Sentry Armored Dispatch" then you will see that many people don't automatically assume that this letter, which makes the grand promise of $898,899 in prize money to recipients, is worse than plain old junk mail. It is a scam. Worst of all, it's a legal scam.

The letter clearly and loudly states that the recipients have won the hefty sum and all they may need do is to send in a check for $20 to claim it.

The letter boldfaces how recipients have won the lofty sum. All that a person needs to do in order to collect is send in a check for $20.

In his column, Lazarus offers the best piece of advice in this situation:

"Let me say right here that whenever anyone tells you to send in money to receive money, don't do it. It's almost certainly a bad idea."

No one ever manages to win this $898,899 (or $898,879 after the $20 deduction). The result of this competition is that the lucky winner gets the grand total of 89¢, or a net loss of $19.11 after mailing in a $20 check (not counting postage).

I bet your now wondering, much as I was, how any of this is legal. Well here goes: The odds of winning must be presented in any sweepstakes or lottery, and the Sentry Armored Dispatch letter lists its odds in the fine print. Despite the implication on the envelope and at the top of the letter, the small type notes that the company "doesn't guarantee the cash or prizes advertised," and that while the odds of receiving the top prize ($898,899) are 1 in 898,899, the odds of winning 89¢ are 1 to 1. In other words, you're 100% guaranteed to "win" 89¢. And you only have to send in $20 to be a winner!

So long as the odds are stated and are accurate, the contest (i.e., scam) is entirely legal. How's that for a reminder to read the fine print--and to brush up on your math skills.

Now, on to another mystery: Why did these scammers choose such a weird, non-rounded dollar figure for the prizes? Why not $1 million rather than $898,899? There has to be some reason; an odd dollar total must somehow make the scam more believable, less obviously scammy.