My wife got the mail 4 days ago and one of the letters was from Airport Chrysler Dodge Jeep in Orlando. The letter referred to a contest the dealership was running. Simply match the provided number to one of three scratch off numbers and you are ‘guaranteed’ to win one of four prizes: a $250 gift card, a PT Cruiser, an iPad, or $100 cash. I usually throw these things away, but in this case, I decided to take the time to read the fine print. Amazingly, the fine print did not have any of the usual caveats.
Back in the day, the local news had an investigative consumer fraud reporter named Ellen McFarlane. One of Ellen’s basic tenets was “If something sounds too good to be true…it probably is.” One thing Ellen was passionate about was fighting scams that promised something for nothing. With that in mind, I wanted to see just how shady and manipulative this dishonest car dealer could be…I decided to “take the bait.”
Upon arriving at the dealer, the first thing that struck me was that you have to go through a whole layer of salespeople just to get into the showroom, only to then be harassed by another several layers of dealers. And once you make it past these dealers, you can look at the vehicles. Armed with the letter, we went in. We went straight to the information desk, but got tackled by the young “Angelo” who was (you guessed it!) “new” on the job.
I produced the letter. I showed it to Angelo. He didn’t even break a smile. He whisked us straightaway to a “conference” table. At the table, he was matter-of-fact. “Are you even in the market for a car?” My answer: “Not really. We came in for the letter.” “No problem” he said. He took us over to a large display board. “So what this letter is about is you get a $2900 check to put towards a new car. And you can compare against the dealer board to see if you’ve won something.” And of course, we didn’t win the car, nor the iPad. Nor the $100 cash. But we did “win” the $250 gift card.
Now let me stop here for a moment. So far, according to the terms of the flyer, we DID win something. And according to the dealer, we DID win something. So far, everything seemed legal to me. And as an aside, I was really prepared to duke it out with them, thinking the whole thing was a scam, but more on that later.
According to Angelo, the next step toward claiming the prize was to “have a look around” at some of the cars. Angelo was green. He had no idea how to sell a car. No idea how to motivate a buyer. He just sort of walked about, showing me Jeep Laredo’s when I asked to see SUVs and Trucks. But whatever…I didn’t mind seeing them. After looking at a few nice vehicles, we decided to go claim the prize. Angelo did the right thing and got us some flyers and contact information. After that, he said “let me go get your prize.” Shortly thereafter, he came back with the gift card. He said “Simply log on to the website listed on the card to claim your prize.”
When we got home, I went to the card’s website, entered the username and PIN. We were then told that we had “$250 to spend.” The problem: everything to choose from on the site was pure junk. These were items that the dollar store would reject! Undeterred, I still decided to get a few pen sets for emergency gift reserves. At $99.99 each, I got 2 pen sets. Then I went to check out. The checkout process said I needed to pay $39.99 shipping. No problem, I thought. The GC had $50 left on it… Unfortunately, the website said “gift card value cannot be used to pay for shipping. Shipping must be via a major credit card.”
So that’s the scam. Lure you in and have you “win” a $250 gift card. Then find out that the $250 can only be redeemed for worthless junk IF you pay upwards of $40 of your own money for “shipping and handling.”
So what did I learn? Like Ellen said – you can’t get something for nothing. I also solidified my belief that this car dealer is unfair. They are the worst lot of people, pun intended. I bet these scoundrels would sell their own mothers for profit. And guess what: I will NEVER, EVER do business with them. Imagine that…give a man a raw deal and then expect his future business! That $250 gift card just cost them untold amounts of money on a future purchase + service calls. The last laugh is on me.
And guess what…I am not finished with them yet. My original mission was to expose their scam. So I have forwarded a report to all of the major news stations – consumer fraud department. There may not be a legal leg to stand on here…but there certainly is an ethical one.