I just got a phone call from someone claiming we had won some sort of prize. Specifically, one of the following:

  1. A Ford Explorer.
  2. $2,500 cash.
  3. A 7 night cruise in Florida and the Bahamas.
  4. A 27″ Panasonic TV.

Obviously right away I was suspicious. Decades of experience have taught me that mathew winning valuable prizes is not the way the universe works. As a young child I had a bunch of Premium Bonds; ERNIE never picked me, but my cousin won something several times. (Bitterness begins at an early age.)

It wasn’t totally out of the question, though. I do fill out opinion polls and customer feedback forms, and they often claim that I have some remote chance of winning something as a result. Not that I ever do.

The word “cruise” fired some neurons which cascaded to the part of my brain responsible for identifying scams. It had definitely heard about situations similar to this one, and suggested that the word ‘timeshare’ was likely to come up in conversation fairly soon. However, the guy was polite and low pressure, so I humored him.

My anonymous benefactor told me that I absolutely did not have to buy anything, and that I was guaranteed one of the four prizes. I got the various details of how to claim my prize jotted down, and gave him my e-mail address so he could send me more info. (Assuming it gets past my spam filters, which is frankly doubtful.) Then I hung up the phone and went to Google.

As far as I can determine, it’s the usual scam—you’ve almost certainly encountered it if you’ve tried to walk down the strip in Vegas. You’re guaranteed a prize from a list, with one small catch—you have to go somewhere inconvenient and listen to a 90 minute pitch about timeshare property.

Your prize is determined ‘randomly’ via a scratch card. And that’s where it becomes scammy, because apparently everyone on the web who has written about their experience with one of these companies, ‘randomly’ won the cruise vacation. What are the odds?

Oh, obviously the cruise vacation doesn’t include the airfare; you have to pick up the tab for that part. Furthermore, the company running the promotion is apparently having terrible trouble finding a print shop, because according to accounts on the web they always seem to have run out of vouchers just before the presentation. Instead, they take the lucky winner’s name and address again, so they can send the voucher to cash in for the vacation by mail.

But the curious thing is, nobody ever seems to have received one of the vacation vouchers by mail. Obviously some kind of conspiracy on the part of the US Postal Service. I saw postings from a few people who have tried to follow up, only to discover that the sales office has disappeared like something out of The Game.

A little more Googling turned up a web publication calling itself The Timeshare Beat. They had heard of the company in question—“Vacation Network Inc.”:

For an upfront fee of several hundreds of dollars, VNAC et al will allegedly assist timeshare salespersons to convince you, the consumer, that the timeshare you are about to purchase will rent for lots of money and that you can count on this money to pay for the down payment or the full purchase of the Timeshare or Vacation Membership. This is a complete and utter lie of course, and no consumer we have spoken to has ever received so much as a phone call from them (let alone any rental money) after they paid for the service. This show for the closing table has been going on for years, especially in Mexico.

So apparently they’re a bunch of crooks after all. Still, there is one way I could get a prize out of them—I’m on the Federal and State “Do Not Call” lists, and I see that Vacation Network has already had several DNC judgements against it in various states.

But frankly, I can’t be bothered. They haven’t annoyed me enough. Now, if they call a second time

I also got mail from Publisher’s Clearinghouse this week, for the first time ever. They would be the Reader’s Digest of the USA, if it wasn’t for the fact that Reader’s Digest is also a US invention. Apparently they started out selling discount magazine subscriptions, but now they seem to have moved on entirely to selling assorted household tat like electric fruit peelers (yes, really) and bookmark flashlights.