My friendly postman – he literally goes the extra mile to be super-helpful so I can't name him or he'll be sacked for inefficiency – delivers an envelope marked “Private – Strictly Confidential” and “Urgent”.
That normally signifies some ambulance-chasing lawyer threatening me for writing the truth about their newly acquired scam client. But here the urgency is such that there is only a second class stamp while the effect of the “Strictly Confidential” bit is spoilt because the sender has misspelt my name.
Throwing away money
Inside there is just one piece of paper – generally senders of the usual scam mail pack the envelope with as much paper as they can – and it is very direct and to the point.
“Can you afford to throw away £20,000?” is the opening sentence. Well, the obvious answer is “no”. I am not in the habit of chucking away all those tenners and twenties into the nearest rubbish bin. In fact, I pick up odd coins I see on the ground. You can't accuse me of waste.
But, apparently, according to the “confirmations manager” who signed the letter, “seven recipients have already done that”.
How does the sender of this random second class letter know whether I have £20,000 to throw away? She doesn't. So how does she know about others who have binned £20,000?
It seems that they each threw away the letter this kind lady had sent out – and these would have given them £20,000 each. It cannot be a case of simply missing a cheque that was in the envelope, as I have another look and it's empty.
Now let's rephrase the opening question. It should read: “Can you afford to waste six minutes of your time listening to a boring phone message which could cost you at least £9.18 and which gives you a chance in many millions to win £20,000?”
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Winning the lottery
This “promotion” is one of those “pre-ordained lotteries” where the winning numbers are created first, and then locked away in a vault.
With the National Lottery, you choose your numbers and then watch to see if those balls with your options come out of the machine. But here, they give you a number and you are expected to spend £9.18 on a premium rate £1.53 a minute 09 line (that's the BT rate – it can be more, much more from a mobile although there is a text option at up to £9.30). Doing this will find out if your number matches those already pre-selected, enabling you to then be issued with a claim number.
What are the odds of finding a winner? The letter does not say. But my number consists of five numerals so that's one in 99,999 possibilities to start with. Then there is a letter from the alphabet – so multiply that by 26 to give 2,599,974 – and then a second letter so multiply again by 26. The possible combinations are 67,599,324.
There is one £20,000 prize so my chance of winning is one in 67,599,324.
There are some other prizes. There are 20 prizes of between £5,000 and £100, 1,000 prizes of £50 and 10,000 of £25. These reduce the odds but there are still 67,588,303 losing alpha-numerical combinations. I am not that entranced by this to gamble nearly £10 on the slight chance of winning £25 – and the even slimmer odds against a higher prize.
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You can enter for free
There is another option. I can send a stamped addressed envelope to an address which promises me a free entry. But by the time the letter arrives – remember this is super-slow snail mail – I only have a few days to think about this as postal entries take up to 28 days to process and the closing date is little more than a month away.
Still, there are consolation awards if my unique number is one of the 67,588,303 which do not have a prize attached. The letter does not reveal what it is. But it does say that if I have a non-winning number, I shall “qualify for an amazing gift”. Now just what could that be? Probably a non-precious stone ring or a rubbish camera or a throwaway pen.
This type of draw is not illegal under present legislation.
[Related link: Put your money where it earns you money - Top ISAs]