Just after Thanksgiving, 2017 one of our readers, we’ll call M, sent us a real gem. Through the U.S. postal service M received exciting news from someone identifying himself as Arthur T. Lee (A.T. Lee), Program Coordinator for the International Award Payment Center. Mr. Lee was writing to inform M…
“I am pleased to inform you that contingent upon your valid qualifying entry and pending subsequent determination as the winner with the top score in this final round of this competition know as IAPC Blue Series XIV, you shall be awarded the sum of $15,000.”
The third paragraph of this wonderful announcement contained this set of instructions…
“I strongly advise you to respond to this Official Memorandom immediately. Complete IAPC1080 (enclosed), detach and mail to this Office in the envelope I have provided. A small fee ($9) is required for registration; this discounted fee must be enclosed with your IAPC1080 form.”
M sent us the complete letter from Arthur T. Lee. It seems to be labelled as “Blue Series XIV” as in 14. We have found references online for similar letters going back as far as series IX (9).
We want our readers to notice that no where in this letter does it say that M IS THE WINNER. No where does it say that SHE WILL receive any award whatsoever. It merely informs her through a lot of gobblegook that she can enter a competition by paying a $9 fee. What is this competition? Mr. Lee asks her to answer one question on form IAPC1080 and offers two possible answers from which she is to choose. The “qualifying question” is one bundle contains 500 $20 bills. What would be the total value of 44 bundles? M is presented with two answer choices… $440,000 or $550,000.
The letter below is clearly meant to lead M into thinking that she could be a winner. The top third is designed to appear like a check for $15,000, though M is referred to as a “Confirmed Candidate” and no bank account information is provided. The center of the letter lists M along with winner’s names and the payments they have reportedly received.
We had no problem finding hundreds of complaints against the International Award Payment Center, going back as far as 2009. This invitation M is clearly deceptive! How is it possible that these people haven’t been arrested and this sham stopped? Here’s what we believe is happening….
1. The International Award Payment Center (IAPC), is also known by many other names including OppCompany, Opportunities Unlimited Publications, Award Processing Center, Contest America Publishers Inc, Cash Connection, and North American Award Center. (Source: BBB.org) It states on their website and in the details of the letters they send that recipients are invited to enter a contest of skills. As elimination rounds unfold, questions get harder and participants will get questions wrong and be dropped. According to our online review of U.S. laws, it is not against the law for people to pay money to enter a competition based on skill. If no skill were involved and it was a random drawing, this would be no different than a lottery or sweepstakes. And it is against the law to ask people to enter a lottery or sweepstakes and charge them a fee. ContestMob.com says “When the winner will be determined based on the skill of the entrant and not at random, the company offering the giveaway has the option of charging a fee to enter.” IAPC is clearly taking advantage of that nuance. (Source: ContestMob.com)
2. We assume that each round of elimination requires an additional check to accompany the contestant’s response to questions, but perhaps $9 is the total anyone would pay to “compete.” How much money is being generated by this so-called contest of skills? Let’s use the IAPC’s own statistics to figure this out. You know the expression “the devils in the details?” Below are the details sent to M as a part of her invitation to compete…
Paragraph 3 says that IAPC expects 105,000 contestants to respond with their $9 fee and enter round 1 of this sham. That’s $9 x 105,000! $945,000! Even if each mailing costs IAPC $3 ($315,000 total) and they pay out $15,000 to the winner and $1000 to each of five runners up, that still leaves $610,000 profit to IAPC. And this doesn’t account for possible payments for subsequent rounds of competition. Even these “Official Rules” clearly state in paragraph 3 “Sponsor anticipates that less than 5% of entry fees will be distributed in prizes.” If we reverse engineer the expected income for IAPC based on a total pay out of $20,000 as indicated at the top of the first letter to M, it means that IAPC expects to earn more than $400,000 in profit from this one contest. Either way, the International Award Payment Center of Kansas City, Missouri is making a lot of money from contestants.
Who do you suppose is competing in this contest? We can never be certain, but we can know that M is a “senior” in life. In fact, we find many complaints online that IPAC has targeted seniors with their deceiving marketing mail. Read some of the complaints listed here on the Better Business Bureau website where negative reviews have stated that IAPC has targeted the elderly. When we checked the rating, IAPC had a “B+” listing, which we found very odd. It was based on one positive review in 2015 (1 neutral and 3 negative reviews.) More accurately, the Business Consumer Alliance has given the International Award Payment Center an “F” rating, going so far as to categorize this company as a scam. This is what an “F” rating means… “We strongly question the company’s reliability for reasons such as that they have failed to respond to complaints, their advertising is grossly misleading, they are not in compliance with the law’s licensing or registration requirements, their complaints contain especially serious allegations, or the company’s industry is known for its fraudulent business practices.”
IAPC does have a website, in the name of one of their many aliases for the company. It is called “OppCompany.” On their website they seem quite happy to tell readers how much they have paid out to winners and explain the official rules in great detail. To their small credit, OppCompany, explains the difference between a sweepstakes and a contest, though they did not include their web address or other company name on the letter M received. On their website’s frequently asked questions they also offer a guarantee to contestants to receive a refund of their contest fee if they are not completely satisfied. But again, we had to do some digging to find OppCompany and their website to connect to M’s letter.
However, does any of this pass the smell test to you? Does this feel like a well designed scam or a real fee-based contest of skills? You decide. We’ve already made our decision. Below are other links from around the web related to this pitch: