The greedy side: Scratch and lose

We of the CARP Generation are always being warned against falling for some get-rich-quick scam artist’s spiel — especially over the telephone. Some of us, no doubt, heed the warnings. But not all of us.

We may be shrewd enough to avoid buying swamp land in Florida over the phone, but there are always other ways to separate a trusting senior from his or her hard-earned buck. The secret, of course, is to appeal to our greedy side. And let’s face it, most of us have one. In fact, CARP has held a first-rate series of seminars on this very topic.

I’m not much of a gambler as a rule. I’ve been in a few poker games in my time, and even bet on the Stanley Cup or the World Series. But I steer clear of lottery tickets and I have learned, over the years, to throw away, unopened, those tantalizing offers from the Ed McMahons and Dick Clarks of our world.

But not very long ago, my greed surfaced and overtook my common sense.

Here’s how it unfolded: One day, my junk mail included a card with an enticing invitation to play Blackjack on the card itself. The face of the card included my Prize Claim Number and was laid out like a Blackjack table, with the dealer’s position facing the of seven “players.” All I had to do, the instructions told me, was scratch the dealer’s spot to reveal his hand. Then, I could pick any one of the seven player’s positions and scratch it. If my hand was better than the dealer’s, that is, closer to twenty-one, “fabulous” prizes would be coming my way. Piece of cake, right? The dealer’s hand showed 17. I chose the sixth spot and got a 19. I was a winner. Now, all I had to do was call a 1-900 number, announce my good fortune and then learn what “fabulous” prize I had won.

The prizes, incidentally, included cash awards ranging from $5,000 to $10,000; plus a trip to Cancun for two, a 35 mm. camera and a CD player.

Almost drooling with anticipation, I dialled the number. What I got was a mellifluous (but recorded) male voice, which congratulated me on my good fortune and then went on to announce some half a dozen seven-digit winning numbers. Then, he repeated the numbers. Alas, my Prize Claim Number was not among them.

The voice continued to talk, telling me that if I hadn’t won a cash award, I might yet win one of the other prizes. He went on to recite another string of seven-digit numbers. Still no luck. Then, more numbers for more (lesser) prizes — all of them repeated. Still, my number didn’t come up.

After that, the mysterious voice hung up, or at least the line was disconnected. Then I tried a little experiment. I scratched all the other positions on the card and realized that six of the seven positions had numbers higher than the dealer’s. Only one player in seven could “lose.” That meant that six idiots — myself included — would call the 1 900 number to “cash in.”

So I checked my card more carefully. The Blackjack card came from CAVE Promotions in Calgary. The fine print included the information that the call I had just made was going to cost me $3.75 a minute, even though I had not uttered so much as one word.

And that was when it dawned on me that the only winner in this exercise was some telemarketing company.

The proof arrived in my next phone bill: seven minutes to the 900 number, at $3.75 a minute.

Total cost to me: $26.25.

Blackjack to the “dealer”.