A couple of years ago, I wrote an article for Yahoo! Voices called “Did I Really Win Two Tickets On US Airlines?” after receiving a strange letter in the mail that claimed I had “won” 2 “free” round trip tickets worth up to $1400 to any place in the continental United States. All I had to do was call a toll free number to claim the tickets on “US Airlines”, an airline that to my knowledge doesn’t exist. I did some research and learned that what I had received was actually a deceptive solicitation to listen to a spiel for a vacation club. But had I just called that toll free number instead of Googling, I might have wasted time and money on something that doesn’t interest me.
My husband and I recently moved to Texas. A few weeks ago, we updated our driver’s licenses and auto registrations. In the wake of visiting our local department of motor vehicles, I started receiving some unwanted correspondence from several different shady outfits that had my correct name and relatively new mailing address. It started with a rather panicky bang on November 4, 2013.
Debt Arbitrators (DA) letters
I received a letter postmarked from Santa Ana, California, but with a return address from Addison, Texas from an outfit called Debt Arbitrators, or simply DA. The letter looked very official and the text within it was vaguely threatening. In bold type, at the top of the letter, it read “Your credit card balance mediation program has not been activated”. Huh? I don’t remember ever requesting credit card balance mediation. The letter continued that if I just called them up and signed up for their mediation services, I could have what I owe on my credit cards reduced substantially. There was a deadline for me to call and a threat that if I didn’t call by December 6th, I would lose out on this valuable service that I didn’t know I needed.
To be honest, I was so spooked by this letter that I checked my credit reports on Annual Credit Report to make sure no one had stolen my identity. I have excellent credit and have never missed a payment, but I am a subscriber to Adobe Systems and their database recently got hacked. When my credit report came out okay, I started investigating and came across this thread on Credit InfoCenter forums originally posted by someone who got the same letter I did and actually signed up for the service. When she later got a bad feeling about it, she did some checking and found out that DA was, at best, being somewhat deceptive about their practices.
Other posters, some of whom had also signed up, confirmed that it’s probably best not to call DA. They sent me a strange “catalog”, which not only described their credit arbitration services, but also offered items for sale, things I could purchase for a much better price from Amazon.com or elsewhere. Indeed, though there is an “opt out” link you can access to tell them not to send you any more mail, I realized that the best thing to do is put any mail I get from them in the trash.
Yesterday, I got yet another letter from DA, this time on bright pink letter and with a notation that it was their second attempt to contact me. They had graciously extended the time I had to call them to December 20th. I don’t plan to call. I don’t need help with my credit card bills and even if I did, I don’t think they could help me.
Motor Vehicle Division letter
Last week, I got another official looking letter. This one was from “Motor Vehicle Division”. At the top of the letter, it read “Vehicle document/Alert notice– Personal & confidential”. This letter was about how my Toyota RAV4, purchased brand new in 2006, was about to be out of warranty and that I needed to call a toll free number by November 18th to sign up for an extended warranty program. If I didn’t call, my “file” would be deleted and I would not be eligible to sign up for their sweet deal.
Once again, I let my fingers do some Googling and came across yet another discussion in which several posters claimed that the company was a scam. Another poster wrote that it wasn’t a scam in that what they were doing is legal, but it’s not a good deal. You pay them money for extended warranty services on your car that may or probably may not be accepted if and when you need to use them. This letter is particularly disturbing, since it looks very official and uses alarmingly urgent words that may be especially effective on very young, inexperienced people or the elderly.
As of today, I have received yet another notice from this company. This time, it was in one of those envelopes you have to tear the sides off of. Usually, you get bank notices or paychecks in these types of envelopes. My husband handed it to me with the comment, “You’re in trouble now!” I photographed it for posterity and tossed it into the trash.
Google Android Touchpad Tablet Computer letter
Yesterday, along with the second DA letter, I got a mysterious letter that read that I would receive an Android Touchpad Tablet Computer from their “gifting department”. All I needed to do was call a toll free number to claim it. And hey, if I called fast enough, they would also give me a $100 gift card to a restaurant. It was signed with a scribble from an anonymous “Vice President, Regional Awards Division”. It took a little more fishing to find out what this letter was all about, since it had no name or return address on it. I finally flipped over the paper and looked at the fine print on the bottom. Turns out, the letter came from the local DirectBuy franchise.
Oh boy! A few years ago, I wrote a couple of articles about DirectBuy, a business that people pay hefty fees to join for the promise of being able to buy furniture and building supplies at wholesale prices. I am well familiar with DirectBuy and have absolutely no desire to sign up with them, though I can imagine that the promise of a free tablet will get some people calling. Also, the offer had strings attached. The fine print noted that I have to have a full time job to qualify and other “certain restrictions apply”.
Look before you leap!
There’s no shortage of companies out there who are looking to make quick money by sending out deceptive letters to unsuspecting people. My best advice is to thoroughly read the fine print on both the front and back of any letters you receive and do your research before you call the toll free number or sign up for any unsolicited offers you get in the mail, even if they are tempting or threatening. You may find out that the deal that looks good on paper is not such a great deal after all.