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BORNE FREE                          back to TTN home page
Contests, Sweepstakes and a few Scams.
By Joe Harkins - Sep 09, 98
no - it's not a hairpiece, just a bad haircut

    If you believe that the best trips are those someone else pays for, you'll like online contests and sweepstakes. Some have the potential to turn your mouse-pad into a flying carpet. However, not all are what they claim to be.

    Take the puzzling case of The Mexico Travel Guide Contest. Visiting it this past July, I found, "Our newest contest will start in June 1998." But there was no entry form.

    When I re-visited in August the promised start date had been changed to September. As leaves began to tremble in the post-Labor Day breezes, I emailed the contest sponsors asking when they intended to accept entries. The mocking one-sentence response bounced back in less than an hour, "We were only waiting for you to ask."

    So, here we are, closer to October than we've been in almost a year, but still no entry form. Maybe "mañana?"

    Meanwhile, that contest continues to pop up in search engines. Newsletters and online lists of contests send visitors to the site. Someone South of the Border seems to have realized that merely saying there is a contest is just as good, in terms of traffic-building, as actually having one.

    Motives for online sweepstakes usually go beyond attracting visitors. Most "giveaways" entice web site visitors into revealing valuable information they normally would hold private. Before entering an online drawing or contest look for a "privacy policy" that promises not to share your data with other parties. Unfortunately, this is not a dependable promise and your recourse is virtually nil when it is broken. Only this past summer, GeoCities, the major "virtual community," publicly admitted under US Government pressure that data from millions of members have been and continue to be sold to third parties.

    If you are willing to risk increased levels of email spam and phone sales pitches that can result from enrollment in online sweepstakes, there are sources to help you find them. At first, Contest World looked like it might be useful. However, the deeper I looked into their listings, the less comfortable I was. For example, one of their sponsors (NetEscapes.com) is operated by the same three brothers whom a Judge in New York ordered to make $300,000 restitution to duped "travel contest winners." Another of their listings is an offshore gambling operation outside the reach of US law. While the site is not in any way involved in those activities, it does promote them.

Note: The owner of Contest World and the owner of NetEscapes each have contacted me separately since this column was released for publication. Those contacts are described below.)

    Sweepstakes run by well-known entities are more promising. Outrigger Hotels and the dive certification organization PADI have joined in promoting a Hawaiian Trip-of-a-Lifetime. A Florida promotional company teamed up with Sony Corporation at Go-2-Orlando. The international agency, DFDS Travel, with 18 offices in Europe and North America, is giving away a 6-day England and Holland trip that includes air fare, hotels, and even an overnight cruise. I found those and many others at Online Contests and Sweepstakes.

    Sweeps Advantage offers a newsletter and chat group. However, the list of contests is helter-skelter and some categorization would be helpful. Honeymoon Magazine is giving away The Ultimate Romantic Escape for two at a Sandals Resort.

    Finally, it's a pleasure to aim you at an exciting travel sweepstakes that also is fun. Dr. Travel's web site promotes his forthcoming book, The Cure for the Common Trip, with excerpts from the text. It's both practical and funny. The Grand Prizes, four of them, are round-trip airline tickets anywhere in the 48 contiguous states.

-30-

(*Extra Links: The mini-reviews below may or may not have been published in your local newspaper depending on the available space in this week's edition. Be sure to scroll down and read the reaction of the above mentioned scam artists to being exposed in the column)

Consolation Prizes:

ArentFox Contest Law Pages
This site contains, in effect, a mini-seminar on the laws regarding contests and sweepstakes. If you enjoy chasing prizes, you'll find this information fascinating.

Sweepstakes News
This is one of those strange web pages that a good search engine can uncover, but which otherwise stands alone, virtually useless. That's because there is no link to any other information except the email link. Sweepstakes News is a reporting service maintained by
Lawrence Curtin. A column written by him under this heading has appeared in hundreds of newspapers and magazines worldwide. Also a news show, The National Sweepstakes Show, written and produced by him, has been aired on hundreds of radio and television stations. Maybe, if you email him and share your enthusiasm for sweeps, he'll write to you.

Mining Company
Look on the right side of that page and click on "Just Travel."  This is an excellent resource for travel contests and sweepstakes!

Hampton Inns
Their "Road King" Contest is not a sweepstakes, but the real thing, an award for doing something well. Each month, the best 250 word essay (see the rules) wins a package that includes use of a Lincoln Town Car and other goodies. But, am I the only one who thinks it strange that a few free nights in this chain of 850 hotels are not among the prizes?

Elsa
The Grand Prize is a trip for two to Germany.

Dive Travel
You'll have to scroll down about four screens to find the sweepstakes, but if you win, it's worth the effort.

Sweepstakes Online
The list is updated frequently.

Free Trip or Taken For a Ride?
    The Attorney General of Texas says: "
. . . we investigated and sued Promotional Travel of Florida. We will continue to go after any others who perpetrate this kind of "contest." But it takes time to identify scams, prosecute malefactors and win cases." 

    Mr. Paul Kosmas, one of the owners of that company, has sent this column two emails that imply he would take some kind of action against Travel The Net for exposing these facts. Fortunately for me and unfortunately for him and his Promotional Travel and NetEscape.com, truth is an absolute defense against claims of libel.

    (Note Inserted 9/10/98: Shortly after this column's deadline, the owner of the Contest World site advised me he was not aware of the connection between NetEscapes and the Kosmas brothers who were the subject of the New York legal action. He said he is removing the link to NetEscapes immediately. I applaud him for his prompt action.

    Further Note 9/11/98: I've recieved an email, purportedly from Paul Kosmas, owner of the NetEscapes web site and one of the three Kosmas brothers. His message includes the following thinly-veiled threat ". . . consider any remarks carefully before you publish potentially libelous comments." (Do threats ever wear a thick veil?) His otherwise lengthy message does not refute, deny or even mention the successful legal action and fines levied against Mr. Paul Kosmas and his brothers by Manhattan State Supreme Court Justice Helen E. Friedman, at the urging of NY State Attorney General Dennis Vacco, for the illegal manner in which the brothers' operations used phony "free travel" as bait to dupe their customers.

    No surprise, he doesn't mention *any* of the legal actions against him by a substantial list of various State's Attorneys.

    Mr. Kosmas has not responded to email offering to publish any rebuttal, denial or explanation he cares to make regarding the information posted on this site about the legal actions against him and his brothers.


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