Post Your Problems: Make sure what's in the cards with your 'winning hand'

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The striped postcard with $10,000 prominently displayed on the front arrived in a passel of newspaper inserts.

It was distributed by FWP Inc. of Bridgewater, Beaver County, and was designed to attract attention.

A faceless referee, a black whistle perched where his mouth should be, held his arms above his head to signal a touchdown. To his left were three footballs and a 1-inch by 3-inch gray rectangle.

"Score & win" were printed between the ref's upraised arms. "Grand Prize Scratch & Win!" and "Over $10,000 in prizes!" appeared below the gray rectangle.

A line of small black type on a white background instructed postcard recipients to "Scratch play area to reveal your winning hand. You may have won the $10,000 Cash Grand Prize or another prize listed on the back of this card!"

Below that were six lines of small white type on a black background that gave new meaning to the term "fine print." Time to look for Aunt Evelyn's oversized magnifying glass. I turned over the card and no magnifying glass was necessary to see the toll-free number I was to "CALL IMMEDIATELY" to find out what prize I may have won. The prizes, their "retail value" and the odds of winning them were:

• A $999 Apple MacBook Air -- 21 out of 1 million.

• A $63 Chefmaster/Kitchen Worthy BBQ 18-piece set -- 399,835 out of 1 million.

• A $16 Kitchen Worthy Serving Set -- 599,834 out of 1 million.

• A $130 Canon Powershot ELPH Digital Camera -- 186 out of 1 million.

• A $199 Apple iPod Touch -- 123 out of 1 million.

And, of course, the $10,000 Grand Prize. There was only one chance of depositing that in your bank account.

There were six "winning hands" shown on the left side of the card:

My hand was a winner.

Printed below the winning hands was the "catch:"

"You may be asked to view a FilterQueen Indoor Air Quality System demonstration.

(You know as well as I do that people WILL be asked to view a demonstration. It takes at least 30 minutes. And once someone is inside your home, it can be difficult to get them to leave. Some consumers have had to call their local police to "escort" won't-take-no-for-an-answer sales reps out the door.)

"No obligation required. No purchase necessary. Available prizes decrease as prizes are awarded. Sponsor not affiliated with prize (manufacturers). Co-sponsored by FilterQueen Merchants throughout North America. Retail value is the verifiable value at the start of the promotion."

I called the toll-free number. I was transferred to a woman who said the only way postcard recipients can find out if they won anything is to schedule an appointment with a sales representative who will come to their homes to "validate" their "winning hand."

I asked if an eight-digit number printed on the front of the card next to the faceless referee was what sales reps used to "validate" a "winning hand." She said she didn't know. I said it would save the rep time and mileage. She said the reps have to see the cards to determine their validity.

I thanked her for her time -- she was very pleasant -- and said I wasn't interested in doing any more with my "winning hand."

FWP Inc. is a member of the Better Business Bureau, which rates businesses A+ to F. The BBB said the company has no rating "at this time" because its status "is being reviewed and/or updated."

The BBB received 10 customer complaints about the company in the past three years, including five within the past 12 months. Eight complaints dealt with product/service problems, two involved advertising/sales issues. All have been resolved.

I called Kim Wallace, the sales service manager for Health-Mor of Strongsville, Ohio, an HMI Industries Inc. company that specializes in the manufacturing of the FilterQueen Indoor Air Quality System. The systems are designed to remove surface and airborne allergens, dirt and dust from home interiors.

Ms. Wallace said the company has used the postcard promotion for "a lot of years" to generate in-home sales, the only type the company makes. It literally helps a sales rep get his or her foot in the door.

"It's definitely legit," she said. She said sales reps are trained to be "polite and respectful" when making their house calls and are not to engage in high-pressure tactics.

She said the sales reps keep the lower-priced prizes in their vehicles when they make their rounds. She said the Apple products, the Canon camera and the $10,000 are awarded from company headquarters.

HMI also is a member of the Better Business Bureau. It also has no rating "at this time" because the BBB is said its status "is being reviewed and/or updated."

The BBB that serves the Strongsville area in Ohio said it received 36 customer complaints about HMI during the past three years, including five within the past 12 months. There were 31 product/service complaints, four about guarantee/warranty issues and one involved a delivery problem. All have been resolved.

Warren King, president of the BBB of Western Pennsylvania, said state law gives consumers three business days to change or cancel contracts that are made in their homes or at a location other than the seller's regular place of business. It does not, however, apply to car sales or Internet sales.

Information: www.BBB.org; 412-456-2700.


Lawrence Walsh can be reached at pyp@post-gazette.com and 412-263-1895. Please include your day, evening and cell phone numbers. Due to volume, he cannot respond to every email and phone call.

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