Whenever you receive a letter saying you have won a "fabulous" prize, beware. The prize you win may not be worth the effort to collect it.

The prizes often are cheap imitations of the real thing. These deceptively described prizes sometimes are used as an inducement to attract customers to sales meetings for land or vacation timesharing (the use of a vacation home for a limited, pre-arranged time) or other merchandise. Promoters who use these cheap imitations call them "switchers."

The Attorney General's Office has received a lot of complaints about promotions that use switchers. Many consumers also become upset about the high-pressure sales tactics used during sales meetings.

Avoid Becoming a Victim

The next time you get a computerized "personal" letter saying you have won a great prize, keep these points in mind:

  • Do not be deceived by letters that look official or urgent. Some contest promoters use names that resemble official organizations (such as a state lottery or a charity organization) or an envelope that looks as if it contains an important document or legal notice.
  • Read the letter carefully. In some cases, the letter may tell you the cash value of each prize and the odds of receiving a larger prize offered. 
  • In some cases, you may be required to attend a sales seminar as part of the contest. This information often appears in fine print at the end of the letter.
  • Remember, the chances of winning a truly valuable prize are slim!
  • If you are required to attend a sales meeting in order to claim the prize, do not sign any contract or give the salesperson a deposit right away. Ask for a few days to consider your decision. During that time, check out the company. (A legitimate company would still appreciate your purchase a few days later.)
  • Do not let the salesperson make you feel guilty for not buying what is being sold. It is only a sales tactic.
  • Be especially wary of offers that are for a "limited time only" and efforts to make you buy on the spot. Never make a significant purchase decision under pressure.
  • If you sign an agreement for a vacation timeshare, Missouri law allows you five days to change your mind and cancel the agreement.
  • Before signing make sure you read the entire contract carefully. If the salesperson makes claims that are not in the contract, remember it is the contract that counts.
  • Don't buy a product just for the prize.

Decrease Junk Mail

If you want to curb delivery of unsolicited mail to your home from national companies, write to:

Mail Preference Service
Direct Marketing Association
P.O. Box 643
Carmel, NY 10512

You can write: "The undersigned requests that his or her name be removed from any and all mailing lists for unsolicited mail being delivered to:"

 Include your name, address, and names of others in your household requesting this service.

(If you continue to receive mail three months after sending the postcard, write directly to the mailers to request removal of your name from their mailing lists.)