Out of America: Sweepstake junkies] Send in your dollars and beat the system]

WASHINGTON - About a month ago, I gave in. Only so many times can you ignore a fat, official-looking letter from American Express, proclaiming: 'Rupert Cornwell You may win dollars 1,666,675 ( pounds 1.09m).' Or an even more categoric missive, from American Family Publishers (AFP), declaring: 'Rupert Cornwell, one of the region's top winners, will be paid ten million dollars . . . guaranteed.'

Yes, you know that small print, artfully concealed behind the envelope's window, will state that only if in the unlikely event that the recipient returns the entry form promptly, and has the winning number, will R Cornwell be nicely set up for life.

But, you wonder, after a while, maybe this is different, maybe there is such a thing as a free lunch. And thus, do America's direct mail marketeers entice another victim.

American Express is pushing a glossy travel guide; AFP is offering subscriptions to magazines, from Newsweek to The American Handgunner. The lures range from sweepstakes to 'free awards' - which prove to be anything but free. Common to all of them, however, is a breathtaking cheekiness.

First you will be informed of your incredible good fortune. 'Congratulations Rupert Cornwell, you have qualified to enter . . .' (Along with 80 million other households in the US). Next you are told that as a 'finalist you must respond before a given deadline, or this heaven-sent opportunity will pass to someone else'.

AFP tells you its 'urgent documents have been rushed to your door today' (at bulk postage rates of course). Then there are 'Confidential Prize Acceptance Affidavits,' where you specify to whom the cheque should be made out. Publisher's Clearing House (PCH), even asks you what kind of party you'd like when you win. But don't rush to draw up a guest list.

Of course, the ideal bet is one where the reward is in line with the odds, a dollars 10 prize say, for a dollars 1 bet. Now, technically, a sweepstake has no entrance fee. But the stamp on your reply envelope costs 29 cents. Statisticians put the odds of hitting the jackpot on AFP or PCH, on the first draw, at a trillion to one, making the prize dollars 290bn: a top prize of merely dollars 10m doesn't look so good. Still, it's a lot better than one which briefly intrigued the Cornwell family.

Coming from an outfit called Southeastern Promotions in Chattanooga, Tennessee, it began in almost intimidatory fashion: 'You have only 72 hours to respond,' before the 'ABSOLUTELY GUARANTEED' award would pass to someone else. We could choose one of four prizes: a car worth dollars 15,000, a dollars 2,000 television set, dollars 2,000 in cash, or a holiday. We called the toll-free number, to find a special bonus number on the card qualified us for yet more goodies. Moreover, we could have cash instead of the prizes. And were we flexible on the holiday date?

There was only one snag: we had to pay dollars 700 up-front as a 'promotional fee.' Only afterwards did we notice, in microscopic print, the information that 199,996 times out of 200,000 an entrant would 'win' the holiday. Which all goes to show, there's more than one way to unload off-season hotel rooms on Waikiki Beach.

But at least this was not one of the many scams on the fringes of the sweepstakes business, such as being asked to call a special 1-900 number, which charges you an exorbitant fee for being told you've won nothing - a practice banned by several states. Then there are straightforward con- tricks. You receive a phone call, saying you've hit a zillion-dollar jackpot. But just to make absolutely sure, please send dollars 500, as an 'insurance fee' against the cheque being lost in the mail. That, naturally, is the last you hear of the cheque or your dollars 500. Not surprisingly, some want to ban sweepstakes altogether.

But try telling that to the thousands of true believers, who've just held their annual gathering, the National Convention for Sweepstakers, in Indianapolis. 'One decent win and you're hooked,' says Nick Taylor, publisher of Best Sweepstakes.

The trick, he explains, is to look for smaller competitions, which attract fewer entries. The prizes may be only a few hundred dollars. But if you're a sweepstakes junkie playing 100 different competitions a month, at least you cover your postage. In other words, you beat the system.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own