Scratch n Scam?

Natassja Anto-Keshen


Recently, many residents of Tumbler Ridge have had unsolicited scratch and win lottery cards shoved in their doors. Prizes offered—and in many cases ‘won’—include an IPod Touch, Canon camera, and of course, large sums of money.

Most people have been skeptical about the legitimacy of these cards, and their suspicion has increased since finding that all of their neighbors have also won outrageous prizes. On the back of the card, in fine print, it says “You may be asked to view a Filter Queen Indoor Air Quality System demonstration.” Letting someone vacuum your house for a few hours in exchange for a free iPod seems too good to be true, and, like most things that are too good to be true, it is probably a scam.

But it is a clever scam, because it doesn’t technically break the law. The aim is to give a vendor a chance to push their product on you. Because the ticket merely claims to give you a chance to win a prize, on certain conditions, they are under no legal obligation to give you that prize.

Because you have not given them anything (as in money for the ticket) you are not technically involved in a binding contract with them if you “win” and so they don’t owe you anything. Most people are pretty confident that nobody can make them buy something if they do not want to, and so they will only have to “sit through” a demonstration in order to receive their prize, but the vendors of these products are highly skilled in using high-pressure sales techniques, and are very ready to take advantage of a person’s age or confusion to rope them into making a purchase. It’s how they make their living. You might find yourself making payments for years on a vacuum worth embarrassingly less than you paid for it. And if you are in the market for a vacuum, it makes more sense to simply buy one from a reputable retailer than from somebody trying to manipulate their way into your home.

A town near Winnipeg was flooded with this type of lottery in 2009 and some members of that community posted about it on a local message board. One person said: “Yes I called them, they took my address, name, asked me what kind of vacuum I use then told me that I don’t qualify for the $5000 prize. I asked why? It was what her computer said when she entered me into the system, I just don’t get it.” And another person claims that his mother received such a winning lottery ticket. He says: “I called in for her. They asked questions about what kind of vacuum she used and after telling them, the lady said they’d like to come out and do a demonstration with a new vacuum. She claimed after they did that, my Mom would be under no obligation to buy it and would be able to pick a prize off the back of her card, depending on what was available and what wasn’t. They then wanted to know the size of carpet in her home but by that time my Mom wasn’t interested anymore and I told the lady goodbye. So yeah, sounds like a scam to me. Also everyone I know has a “winning” card!”

In March of 2013, the Ottawa Community News ran an article on this subject as well. They interviewed the Senior Call Taker Supervisor with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, Daniel Williams. Williams said “Though winning prizes is possible, it is highly unlikely to win anything worth your while. Businesses that use this tactic depend on duping their clients long enough to convince them to agree to a demonstration. Whether it is for vacuums, air filtration or cleaning services, these types of tactics have been around for decades, but do not constitute fraud and there is nothing illegal about it.” he adds “Over the years, in many cases, people are being charged in excess of $3,000 for a vacuum that they say is worth in the range of $300.” Yikes!

Williams recommends that you do some research and find out what similar products are worth before you make any purchase and he makes a good point, especially since there is very little reason not to be an informed consumer with the access we have to information nowadays. The Canadian Consumer Handbook, created and updated by the Consumer Measures Committee, a joint federal/provincial group, says: “Knowing what’s on offer in today’s marketplace and whether it suits your needs is key to protecting yourself. Critically examine product and service offerings before purchasing to make sure there are no unexpected or negative implications. Always remember – if it seems too good to be true, it usually is.”