Tuesday, February 09, 1999

Thanks, but no thanks, Mr. Suarez

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        “This is a scam. Right, Mom?” my daughter asked, handing me a thick letter.

        You could read her name inside the address window. Actually it said “winner's legal name.” The words “U.S. Mail” were stamped in red across the front. Twice. As though this exotic and exclusive service is available only to those who have been thoroughly investigated and found worthy by the U.S. government.

        The back of the envelope warned sternly: “Tagged U.S. Mail. Do not open this letter.” Sending a letter to somebody, then forbidding them to open it seems to defeat the purpose. These were not, however, unreasonable people.

Follow the directions
        We could open the letter if we called first for instructions, but “only if you have received documents pertaining to your claim as a cash winner.” That's us. Cash winners.

        A recorded message sounded genuinely delighted by our good fortune: “Congratulations. You may now open your envelope and sign your official claim form.”

        Inside was a letter: “You really are a cash winner and the winner of a genuine 1-carat Lindenwold Cubic Zirconia Diamond simulant. Everyone who sees this prize is stunned by its beauty. A New York publication states that the appearance "looks even better than an average 1-carat diamond which sells for $4,000.'”

        Geez, a New York publication. This must really be something special.

        “Select the beautiful mounting you like best from the enclosed Showroom Collection and return the specially marked jewelry tag.”

        Looking for the jewelry tags, we stumbled upon a handwritten note from Jensen Ackles, the 20-year-old soap opera heartthrob. “I just wanted you to know how much I've enjoyed my items of jewelry from Lindenwold Fine Jewelers. Who knows maybe I'll see you in the showroom someday.”

        Well, next to owning something approved by a New York publication, that would be the thrill of a lifetime.

        We found the tags and pictures of our mounting options. I am drawn to the “classic toothpick holder” but my daughter favors the “sensational 1-carat ring.” The ring has a “comparable jeweler's price using a mined diamond and a 14K gold mounting” of $3,650. We would pay only $19.

        The toothpick holder, even if they pull out all the stops and use a real diamond and gold, would be worth only $650.

        What they use is “gold electroplate” or “silver overlay.”

        Maybe part of our cash prize could pay for the mounting. “By returning the Official Delivery Guarantee Form, the Authorized Entrant will receive a check for cash. Amount of check has been randomly preselected by computer.” We have one chance in 500 of getting the big check — $100. We have 89 chances in 100 of getting a check for $1.

A simple explanation
        We don't like our odds. In fact, we don't much like the whole package. If it's a legitimate sales pitch for jewelry, you have to wonder why somebody spent so much money making it look like something else.

        The attorney general of West Virginia thinks there is a simple explanation. It's crooked.

        Attorney General Darrell V. McGraw Jr. went after Ohio direct mailer Benjamin Suarez, who operates Lindenwold Fine Jewelers in Canton. West Virginia's Supreme Court has upheld a lower court ban on certain of Mr. Suarez's business practices.

        “The many solicitations in the record are patently deceptive, misleading and obviously calculated to unfairly induce consumers to buy cheap merchandise at inflated prices,” the opinion said.

        Mr. Suarez promises revenge “even if it takes up 30 years.” He has filed suit against Mr. McGraw in U.S. District Court in Akron. We have decided not to collect our cash winnings or our gem-like prize. Perhaps Mr. Suarez can use the money to defray his legal costs.

        Which I hope will be considerable.

        Laura Pulfer can be e-mailed at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393. She can be heard on WVXU radio and on NPR's Morning Edition. Her book, I Beg to Differ, is available at (800) 852-9332.

        Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com