When Rod Hale received a blue postcard in the mail from the “Awards Verification Center” announcing that “you are the official prizewinner in our NEW MERCEDES, BMW, PORSCHE or $49,000 CASH promotion,” he just knew that his dream was about to come true.
Hale, of Glen Rose, gushed back in a letter to the company at the North Richland Hills address, “You quite simply cannot imagine the immensity of my thrill by having received your notification that I was an OFFICIAL PRIZEWINNER of your company’s contest.
“My choice of winnings will be the $49,000 cash, which I will apply toward the completion of a nature trail I’ve been working on for disabled kiddos and adults.”
He attached a 2009 story from a Glen Rose newspaper with a photo showing him standing in the woods.
Hale has only one leg.
The story described how for five years he has worked alone and sometimes with volunteers to build the trail on his property.
In the letter, he wrote that he would contact radio, newspaper and TV stations to cover “the awarding of the BIG CHECK.” He would invite the mayor. There would be “huge and positive” publicity for everyone. The nature trail, free for the public, would be finished. His dream was coming true.
Only it wasn’t.
Nobody bothered to answer his letter.
So he called the company, which turned out to be Silverleaf Resorts, a Dallas time-share company listed on the American Stock Exchange. He asked to talk to Susan Murray, the awards director who signed his postcard.
The person he spoke with at the company’s Arlington call center said she didn’t know anyone by that name.
He finally got to talk to a salesman, who explained that Hale had not won anything yet. First, he had to attend a seminar to learn about a time-share program. After the presentation, he’d get a scratch-off card to find out his prize.
“No, sir. I’ve already won,” Hale told the salesman.
“No, sir. You haven’t won. You just misread the card.”
The card says that Hale is an official prizewinner but doesn’t say what his prize is. The contest name mentions luxury cars and $49,000 cash. But that doesn’t mean everyone wins what is in the title.
Silverleaf Resorts spokeswoman Sandra Paredes says there have been 20 top winners in the last six years.
The Texas Timeshare Act, which addresses time-share promotional marketing, makes it illegal to offer a prize and then not award it.
Silverleaf has listed the odds of winning the $49,000 as 1 in 53,000.
“I do feel like a gullible old fool,” Hale says.
Hale has been working on the Fox Holler Nature Trail, on which disabled people would slowly ride small vehicles. He’s had help from Tarleton State University students and Dallas Boy Scouts. He’s written about 100 grant requests, but he says he can’t raise the money to finish it. He thought his problems were over.
To make up for his disappointment, Paredes told The Watchdog that Hale can visit a Silverleaf property, skip the time-share presentation and get a scratch-off card to find out what he won.
So I told Hale about the offer. Was he interested? Did he want to play those odds?
“No, not really,” he said quietly.
Who can blame him?
By the way, the Dallas Better Business Bureau reports that the company has been the target of 438 complaints in the past three years, most about sales practices. All were either closed or resolved. The Texas attorney general’s office reports 116 complaints in the past two years.
Dave Lieber, The Watchdog columnist for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is the founder of Watchdog Nation. The new 2010 edition of his book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, is out. Revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards in 2009 for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber