I’m usually pretty good at spotting the “small print” on gimmick mailers and promotional contests. The latest one from a local car dealership was well-hidden. I looked and looked. Got out my hand-lens and scanned the tiny print in the margins. Hmm. This one was sneaky.

Mail flyers from car dealers that say you’ve won cash or prizes are bogus ploys to get you to come to the business. This one, from Brenner Pre-Owned in Harrisburg, PA and addressed to “Future Customer”, contained a scratch-off ticket. Some contain “keys” that you bring into the dealer to try for a new car.

Alright, I’ll play. [Put on skeptical spectacles]

According to the directions I need to “Pull a set of matching symbols and you are a winner”. I scratched off matching triple 7s. I won! The Prize Board displayed shows matching triple 7s is Prize 1 – $5000 cash. Digging through the tiny print I found only ONE hint that this might not be an actual winning ticket.

A winning number on a mail piece will be matched to a winning number sign posted at the dealership to determine the prize won.

That is contradictory. And pretty sleazy. It’s a bait-and-switch. You think you are getting one thing but you end up with a cheap token prize that you didn’t expect.

The flyer was labeled in the postage section as being from “cheapautodeals” – a website that specializes in marketing these promotions. On that site, I was able to browse all the deceptive materials they will mail in bulk for auto businesses as you target new customers. Behold, the exact flyer and even the exact ticket.
They are ALL “winners”.

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 6.21.08 PM

No, I didn’t go to the dealer to see if I had the matching confirmation number. I have better things to do with my time. Besides, there is hardly any worse thing to do on a holiday weekend than to visit a car lot teeming with roaming $ale$people working for commission. It’s a first-world form of torture.

What does the dealer do when he gets you in the door to claim your “prize”? Is there pressure to trade in your old vehicle? Do they size you up for a loan qualification? They most certainly take personal information and place you on a mailing list.
I wonder how many people fall for this? Such craftiness targets older people or those who may be less educated and not careful readers.

Heck, if you have poor eyesight you couldn’t possibly read the fine print.

Making a logical deduction from what you are given, it appears you have won a certain prize. Outright trickery is not anticipated (unless you are familiar with these traps). Legal folks who specialize in cheating the system had their hand in this. I couldn’t find anything on Cheapautomailers.com about legal coverage. MotorTrend covered this very common ploy. A former salesman admits that his employer ran these promotions four times a year, sending thousands of mailers, and had more people than you would expect come into the lot expecting to drive away in a new car they had won.  He never saw anyone actually win a car.

In 2014, the Atlanta-area Better Business Bureau issued a warning about these ads after a complaint from a woman who thought she’d won. Officials investigated the claim and determined that it was within legal guidelines but was deceptive. Sounds like there is a loophole. Once again, we see that you can’t efficiently legislate against general lack of critical thinking.


I’m sending this post to my representative because this kind of deceptive marketing shouldn’t be happening in my state or anywhere.

29 thoughts on “You (didn’t) WIN: Jackpot scams from the car dealer

  1. Hi Sharon, we are sorry that you feel that this mailer is a complete scam. We understand that sometimes mailers can come off as deceiving however that surely is not our goal. We would not intentionally make an offer and not follow through.. If you head on over to our Facebook page ( https://www.facebook.com/brennercj/photos/a.128164444019896.25541.124184114417929/499622180207452/?type=3&theater ) you will see that last year we ran the same mailer and did in fact giveaway a check for $25,000.00 to a local lady (from Enola, PA) who came in with the winning mailer. She was able to choose between a new 2016 Jeep or the $25,000.00 and she chose the money. In any lottery type system there are odds for you and against you, but when the odds are in your favor and you are a true winner we always follow through on our promise. We truly appreciate your concern, if you have any other issues or would like more clarification please feel free to reach out to us directly. – Brenner

    1. Your goal is to get people into your dealership. That is clear. Did I win $5000 then? No. It’s deceptive.

      1. In a true lottery, the person knows there’s a chance they may not win. However, those scams from dealerships are not clear at all.
        My husband and I got one of those mailers the other day and of course, we “won” $1000. Just to see what the scam was, my husband called. They told him that he’d have to come in and match the pin above our address to the pin on their computer. Even though the fine print says nothing about matching a pin. He had to call to find that out. This particular dealership is a good 45 minutes from our residence. These dealerships think nothing of people wasting gas to come all the way out there just to be told they didn’t win.

  2. I’m sorry about the car &/or $5000, you look sooooooooooo happy in the photo.

    btw, I like your new photo more than your old one.

  3. I’m feelin’ your pain Sharon! However, I think we have to remember that any kind of jackpot or lottery — whether it’s a car dealership, timeshare or Publisher’s Clearinghouse — clearly has a slimy string attached. As sci-fi legend Robert Heinlein used to have his characters say “TNSTAAFL.”

    Therefore, to expect a plain-dealing, plain-spoken contest offer for just about anything is perhaps a bit…I hate to say it…naive. Of course we don’t like to be tricked, but as with any sleight-of-hand we have to be aware that something is going on. At least at a magic show there’s no pretense of fair-dealing.

    I remember going to trade shows and being greeted at the door by a well-scrubbed. professional person offering to give me a free iPad (or whatever). All I had to do was give them my business card. I eventually learned that while someone might get the iPad, it wasn’t going to be me, and the cost in time and effort to get off their mailing list was going to be hefty.

    Most recently I actually succumbed to the Safeway/Albertson’s “Monopoly” game — knowing somewhere in my hardened heart that it was a fool’s mission. I’ve chronicled the adventure on my own blog for those who wonder about how it works: https://jveeds.wordpress.com/2016/05/16/we-wont-get-fooled-again/

  4. Thanks Sharon. You savedme a lot of time and effort. I received a mailer from the local dealership containing a key and a scratch off. The number underneath the scratch off of course match the “lucky number” printed on the ticket. I knew this had to be a scam. I just couldn’t get what it was. Then I read your message and I looked at the card again and it said that the number on the ticket would have to match a number at the dealership. The dealership is a good Hour away from me. I had a good laugh at the dealership response to your comments. What he talked about how his Facebook page shows someone holding a check that the dealership issued as winnings in this contest. Like you can’t fake that. Of course that has to be real.

  5. I get these flyers regularly in the mail and I always throw them out. I freaking hate scams and shady people. I truly feel sorry for the people who fall for it.

  6. Hey. I beat you ALL!. I “won” $20,000. When I saw the thing about coming in to see if your number was up on the board, I figured it was a scam. Thanks for confirming it. I might go anyway (its closeby. I might walk – no car to trade.) Just snap a ic so I can post it & save others the trouble.

  7. Does ANYONE know how to get your address OFF these car dealership mailings?? I have a home up in Gainesville Florida and our mailbox is flooded with these daily. I don’t currently live in the home but for some reason never get these mailings at my other home. It’s like they’re targeting this one particular neighborhood/area. It’s such a pain in the ass and I don’t see anywhere online on how to get your name and address off these mailing lists!

  8. I got one in the mail with digital box and a pull tab. After reading your article, you just saved me a 25 minute drive. It ask you to pull the tab on the total box, then peel the sticker below it. If they match, you’ve won that corresponding prize, which in my case was $2,500.00. Like you I searched and searched with a magnifying glass until I found it. Its in the small print stating your winning number has to match the number on the dealers office, not the numbers you just pulled the tab and peeled. Where do you find your number? In very small print under a bar code that is “supposed” to be used to verify your winnings. Thanks for saving me some time and gas.

  9. I understand the entire mailing list concept. Here’s a “return serve” hint. The next time you get one of these in the mail, call in and give the address of that dealership or a competitor’s dealership as YOUR address. I do that with online offers, they ask for a phone number and I give them one of the dozens that I get as scammers. Fraud for fraud, call it Fraud Zen.

  10. “PLAY THE $25,000 CASH GAME!*”

    LUCKY TRIPLE DIAMONDS – Scratch Off All 9 Circles Below. Match 3 In A Row To Win! Up, Down, Across, Or Diagonal.
    WINNERS CALL: (814) 256-4668 Enter Confirmation Code 25245180

    Event Headquarters
    1703 W. College AVE.
    State College, PA 16801

    “Honey, it says you’ve won $2,000!”

    No way, I said. Let me see that thing.

    Sure enough, there it was sitting on the 2nd row. 3 Triple Gold Bars straight across the middle.

    So, I glance over to the prize legend. It was clear, in large pink letters $2,000 CASH!

    You’re right, I said.

    She looks at me and says, “Well what are you waiting for?”

    I still couldn’t believe it. It’s my lucky day I thought to myself.

    In disbelief I began searching for the fine print. After all, there are the little * marks. Plus,
    it’s a good 45 minute drive on the highway, so I want to be sure. I don’t want to burn
    up $20 worth of gas for nothing. Also, I don’t want to look like a fool.

    So, I read the find print 3 or 4 times, because there surely wasn’t anything that indicated I may not have won what the scratch off showed.

    GOOGLE to the rescue! To my dismay, I found this blog post.

    LOL I chuckled to myself. They almost had me.

    Thanks Sharon, for this post. Sometimes the best remedy to fight this sort of thing is awareness.

    Can you imagine being that desperate to generate leads for your business that you would pull this sort of thing on would be customers?

    NOTE: If you have any questions about this “promotion” feel free to contact Blaise Alexander Hyundai (814) 234-2886

    Apparently, they’ll take a lead no matter how big or small, however they can get it.

  11. Heck, if you have poor eyesight you couldn’t possibly read the fine print.

    No kidding. Took 3 tries to find the fun bit. Just saved ourselves a trip and a whole lotta stress reading this article.

  12. My mother just called me telling me she won 2500 from a local dealer..lmao.. I have to bring her to the dealer tomorrow @ 2pm.. She said she called & they said it’s no scam.. Well, we’ll see.

    1. Well, they don’t think it is a scam because they may actually offer prizes. But it is a bait and switch. You almost certainly don’t win a new car or free cash.

  13. I was kind of thinking if I walked out with anything it would be more than I walked in with. As long as it doesn’t take too long. I really don’t think it will take too long because when I tell them how much I make an hour they won’t even talk to me after that anyways hahaha! So my question is how much of my time will this take

  14. This is really a scam it is all for nothing after you jump through all their Hoops it’s a big joke to them I filled out all the s*** took their dumbass survey just for them to say thanks and that was it I had a winner on the pull tab but yet I didn’t win anything

  15. So this big, nifty card that says I could win anything from 2 new cars or a PS5 (considering the make this cars if from, I’d go for the PS5. They don’t have any cars I like.) I pull up the tabs and, golly, I won $10,000. Now, I know I’m not that lucky. I’ve lived long enough to know stuff like this isn’t going to happen. So I do some Googling on this type of thing and find this blog, and sure enough as I read the fine print on the game rules inside the mailer I see. “prize winners are determined by scanning the [card] through a kiosk at the dealership. Matching symbols/codes are not associated with a specific prize.”

    So if the matching symbols aren’t associated with a specific prize why all the nonsense with the pull-tabs on the back of the card making one think they won a specific prize?! Why isn’t just a card that says to come in and scan this and see what you want. What, nonsense is this and how is it at all legal? Yeah, I’m going to make a 35-minute trip to a dealership that’s like 40 miles away to scan this card where I might win a prize but will have to listen sales pitches first for cars I have no interest whatsoever in. I have no interest in a new car at all. I have a pretty new car that’s doing me just fine.

    1. I’m afraid too many people don’t think through it like you have. They assume that it MUST be legit because it seems clear to them that they won. The process of doing the work to reveal a prize makes people believe. They become invested in the outcome that appears so favorable to them and they go into the store. Actually, I pity the salespeople who have to deal with these customers. Car dealer employees have shitty jobs.

  16. I just got the “Triple Lucky Diamonds” scheme in the mail. I can usually spot a scam from a mile away, but man they have gone out of their way to make this look legit! I had to actually study it for a few minutes to figure it out. And here’s the thing… part of my job is reviewing government contracts. So reading material and assessing it’s content is normal practice for me. Likewise, my wife is a Technical Writer for a large oil company, so she too has to read and review a lot of material. So for both of us to be scratching our heads reading this thing, they definitely went out of their way to deceive people. In my opinion, it should be illegal as hell. I can see a TON of people falling for this and wasting their time and money. It’s total BS.

    But what I want to know is what person in the world would actually want to buy a car from these scumbags after they smile at you and say “you didn’t really win, we just tricked you”? I can think of a lot of reactions I might have to such a situation, and none of them involve me buying a car……

  17. The funniest thing is that everybody thinks they won something, because NOBODY gets a losing ticket in the mail. They have to make the trip to the dealer to discover they won nothing after all. That makes it a 100% scam. Should be prosecuted for fraud.

  18. I just received this in the mail today for Toyota of Hopkinsville. It’s 25,000, 2,000, 1,500 and last a Bluetooth speaker.
    I read through everything trying to understand and see if it was just a scam.. only thing on it said something like “prizes are not matched, come into the dealership”
    Now when I first saw the win, I started crying. I’m a newly medically retired vet.. waiting on social security because of my disability, I can barely make ends meet… I’m doing everything I can, but that doesn’t change the fact I might not have a roof over my head in the next month… that money would’ve saved my livelihood… I call to confirmation, they tell me I won.. I waste the little bit of gas I have to drive down there.. and then they handed me the fucking speaker… I went to my truck and just cried.. to feel so much hope that I can pay bills and maybe get a little food in the house… just to be given a $5 speaker…
    I just got home and still haven’t stopped crying because of crushed hope and now the added stress.

  19. My card revealed that I have won a prize. Of course I was unable to confirm that on line as I was unable to insert the Pin # to confirm my win so after reading all these scams I decided not to call to find out if I actually did win. Thanks for the info.

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