On Saturday, my wife received a letter via U.S. postal mail from a company named Shelton & White:
"April 26, 2010
Note: You must respond no later than May 5th, 2010
I am pleased to inform you that you have qualified for an award of 2 roundtrip airline tickets. Congratulations. These tickets are valid for travel anywhere in the Continental U.S. The retail value of this award is up to $1,400.00. Certain restrictions apply.
We have attempted contacting you several times without success. This is our last attempt. If we do not hear from you soon, we may need to issue the ticket vouchers to the alternate.
Please call us today at 800-363-8017.
Travel Awards Division
New York - Chicago - Los Angeles
email@example.com - www.sheltonwhite.com"
My wife thought that this letter was suspect. She said that she hadn't entered any sweepstakes or contests, and hadn't received any prior letters or phone calls from Shelton & White.
After reading the letter, I agreed wit her. It seemed questionable. Several things about the letter didn't seem quite right.
First, the phrase in the letter "qualified for an award" seemed suspect. Either she won the award or not. And the poor grammar reminded me of the phishing e-mails we all receive online. Second, the letter emphasized an immediate reply within a short time period. A high-pressure offer always sets off alarms for me.
Third, the envelope was addressed by hand, and it was postmarked Phoenix Arizona. The actual letter didn't mention a Phoenix address, and only listed the three cities above: New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
Fourth, we did a Google search on the company name to see what we'd find. I always do this because McAfee Site Advisor is integrated with Google search in my web browser. I like Site Advisor because it helps me avoid entering Web sites that are infected with computer viruses and malware. Our Google search results included an item from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Tucson, Arizona:
"Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona is alerting consumers to Patterson Bell, Shelton White, Zimmerman Cain, Davidson Powell, Morrison Banks, Sutton Perry, Gilbert Turner, Sullivan Lang, Stanton Carney, Emerson Ross, Swanson Carr, Thompson Fuller, Richardson Blake, and Hoffman Sims, self proclaimed “Awards Redemption” agencies mailing letters to local consumers that state the recipient has qualified for airline tickets. Since Dec. 10, BBB has received over 30 inquiries about Patterson Bell from consumers seeking to determine if the offer is legitimate. Consumers who spoke to BBB said they had no recollection of ever entering a sweepstakes or contest for the airline tickets... Phone calls to Hoffman Sims and Patterson Bell each led the same representative who declined to provide any information regarding the mailings and refused to disclose either company’s Tucson address. The representative also refused to say whether Patterson Bell and Hoffman Sims were in any way affiliated."
That confirmed my suspicions. Other consumers also thought that the travel rewards offer was questionable. It was good to see alert consumers taking action by submitting inquiries to their local BBB office.
Fifth, just for kicks I visited the Shelton & White web site since Site Advisor indicated that the site was clean of malware. In my opinion, the site looked like somebody threw it together in 10 minutes. It didn't give me any confidence. I browsed to the "Our Locations" page and noticed that the city locations listed did not match the city locations in the print letter above:
(Click on the image to access a larger version.) This was icing on the cake. We decided to ignore the travel rewards offer. It seemed questionable at best.
Even if the offer was legit, I question a company's competence when they can't list something as simple as their office locations consistently on both their web site, print letter, and envelope. If you look closely, the web site lists the company name as "Shelton White" compared to "Shelton & White" in the print letter my wife received. If they can't get their address and name consistent, I wouldn't trust them with handling my sensitive personal information.
Last, I submitted an inquiry to the BBB. It's easy to do. Just enter the ZIP Code where you live and select the "BBB For Consumers: Check Out a Business or Charity" link. Complete the inquiry form and the site will direct your inquiry to the nearest BBB office. My inquiry:
"My wife received a letter on Saturday May 1, 2010 from Cynthia Lux, the Vice President of Travel Rewards Division at Shelton & White. the letter said my wife had "qualified for an award of 2 roundtrip airline tickets..." and that they had attempted to contact her several times previously. (They had not.) The letter said that she had to reply by May 5, 2010. We checked online to verify this is a legit company and the locations in the web site (www.sheltonwhite.com) do NOT match the locations listed in the print letter. The letter is postmarked from Phoenix Arizona, but it lists locations only in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. My wife and I live in Boston, Massachusetts. I write about identity theft and this Shelton & White offer seems like a scam. Please investigate and verify."
I would like to know if any readers received this offer from Shelton & White? Did you reply? What was your experience with the company? Did you receive the airline tickets promised? What personal and bank account information did Shelton & White ask that you share?