You (didn’t) WIN: Jackpot scams from the car dealer

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”.

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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 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.


5 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 ( ) 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

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

  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:

  4. 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.

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