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Congratulations! You're a Winner!

by Rose Madeline Mula

P. T. Barnum was right. There's a sucker born every minute. I ought to know. I'm one of them.

The thing is, I've always had a reputation for being smart. So how could I have been so stupid as to believe that letter I received last week from Honest Abe's Autos?

Abe was trying to lure me into his dealership by guaranteeing me an incredible trade-in on my car. Because he wisely guessed that his unbelievable offer did not sound, well, believable, he enclosed an incentive—a lottery scratch card headed "Scratch — Match — Win! Every Ticket a Winner!" The accompanying letter promised no obligation, no pressure to actually consider trading in my car. I would simply have to pop into the dealership, and one of five possible prizes would be mine: $4,500 in cash (fat chance), a $1,000 online shopping spree (ditto), $500 in grocery coupons (which you can get with the Sunday paper and which induce you to spend big bucks for tons of stuff you don't need), $20 worth of gas (most of which, at today's prices, my car would guzzle driving to and from Honest Abe's) or $5 in cash (absolutely not worth the cost of the trip). However, unlike most similar promotions that require you to bring the card into the offering establishment and have a salesperson scratch it to see what you've won, this card instructed me to scratch it myself and reveal my prize. I did.

Oh, happy day! I had actually scored the $1000 online shopping spree! I couldn't believe it. I know it's a cliché, but I really never do win anything. I started making a mental list of the marvelous possibilities that were just a few keystrokes away — an extra memory card and battery for my digital camera to insure I'd be able to take as many pictures as I wanted on my next trip .... and, hey, maybe an airline ticket for that trip ... possibly a leather coat ... a new vacuum cleaner? Or maybe I'd really be impractical and blow it all on a pair of diamond earrings.

I got in my car and headed for Honest Abe's, visions of treasures dancing in my head. I'm not naive. I knew it wouldn't be that easy. Despite the "no obligation" promise in the letter, I figured I'd have to submit to a little arm-twisting to get me to trade in my car. But those earrings were looking more dazzling with each passing mile. They'd be worth enduring a high-pressure pitch.

I presented my prize-winning lottery ticket to the salesman who approached as I entered the dealership. He asked what make and year of car I was planning to trade in. "There's no way I can afford a new car right now," I sheepishly admitted. "I'm just here to pick up my prize." Surprise! No coercion. No sales spiel. Apparently his sixth sense (or maybe a quick appraisal of my bargain basement attire) confirmed that I was not a viable prospect with deep pockets and not worth any more of his valuable time. "No problem," he smiled, opening a drawer, and extracting a gift certificate. "That's it?" I asked. "No catch? I actually won a thousand dollar online shopping spree?" "That's right," he confirmed. "No catch. Congratulations!"

I couldn't wait to start shopping. I rushed home and turned on my computer. As it was booting up, I read the gift certificate. Oh, oh. I noticed one small hitch after all. I would not be able to shop on the entire World Wide Web, only on the "Rewards" address specified in the certificate. Oh, well. I was sure the site would be brimming with enough goodies to make me happy.

It wasn't. The pickings were meager and the quality poor. They did offer a leather coat, for example; but it was “crafted” (or, rather, piecework assembled) from patchwork leather, as was the leather "luggage" (tote bags and backpacks) featured on the site. I then clicked the "Home Decor" button, thinking I could get some sheets or a new comforter; but the only product in the category was a sleazy-looking chenille throw. The fact that it was available in a variety of colors did not enhance its appeal.

But I still hadn't given up. I noted a "Jewelry" tab. Hey! Maybe my diamond earrings were waiting for me there. Alas, no. Tawdry costume bling-bling were the only possibilities.

So I set my sights lower. Though all of the categories were equally sparse, maybe I could at least get a couple of new phones. Yes! There were two I could actually use! But clicking on the "Buy Now" button, brought up a window that listed "Shipping Charges." I looked at my "gift" certificate again. Sure enough, I would be responsible for separate shipping and handling fees on each item I selected. I could not use any portion of the certificate for these charges but would have to supply credit card information. For the telephones, the shipping and handling came to more than I would have to pay for new phones at my local Wal-Mart. I investigated shipping charges on other items on the site and found that some were as high as 47%+ of the supposed value of the item. I calculated that a thousand dollars worth of "free" shoddy merchandise would cost me $300-$400 in delivery fees.

As I wallowed in my disappointment, my phone rang. It was a friend calling to tell me, "Guess what? I just received a letter from Honest Abe's Autos. I won a thousand dollar online shopping spree!"

Coincidence? No way. In fact, I'm sure all of the thousands of people on Honest Abe's ill-gotten mailing list won the same prize. And if even only a tiny percentage of those who visited the dealership to claim their reward were sufficiently enticed by the shiny new cars in the showroom to trade in their vehicles, Abe would make out like a bandit ... which, come to think of it, is very appropriate.

Editor's Note: Rose Mula's most recent book, The Beautiful People and Other Aggravations, is now available at your favorite bookstore, through Amazon.com and other online bookstores, and through Pelican Publishing (800-843-1724), as is her previous book, If These Are Laugh Lines, I'm Having Way Too Much Fun.

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