Some cool how to entice customers to buy images:
Reader’s Digest, the grand master of junk mail
Reader’s Digest has been accused of hoodwinking vulnerable, elderly customers into spending more money on its supplementary offers – such as books – by luring them in with the promise of prize draw winnings in excess of £100,000.
The prize draw strategy – a staple marketing technique used by Reader’s Digest for many years – has been exposed in an investigation by BBC One’s Rip Off Britain.
A vulnerable dementia patient filled his house with an estimated £15,000 of unwanted Reader’s Digest books – in the hope that he’d win a prize. He bought anything and everything – from history volumes to Noddy hardbacks – and hid them in every available corner of his home.
As he bought more books, he became more convinced he was moving up the ladder towards winning a Reader’s Digest prize. His daughter Catherine Shilling was shocked to learn the truth when he was taken ill and moved in to a care home.
She found his house, in Inverness, crammed with books stuffed under cushions, stacked in wardrobes and behind cupboards. He’d also been targeted by more than 100 charities, and his underwear drawers were overflowing with their thank you letters.
Mrs Shilling has blasted the unscrupulous sales tactics of those who targeted her 89-year-old father and bombarded him with literature. Her MP, Lib Dem Danny Alexander has called more protection for the vulnerable from cold callers and mail order firms.
Mrs Shilling, 53, has asked for her father, who lived in Cradlehall, Inverness, not to be named.
She believes he spent around £20,000 altogether, the majority on books and some in response to appeals from more than 100 charities, as well as herbal supplements.
‘He was actually running out of hiding places for all the books,’ said Mrs Shilling. ‘I could not believe my eyes. There was everything from countryside and animal books to Noddy hardbacks.’
More than 127 charities were also in regular contact with and a paper trail suggests he gave away at least £4,000 to good causes in recent years. Danny Alexander MP, who is also Chief Secretary to the Treasury, has now intervened to try and help the family recover some of the money and investigate the wider issue of how the vulnerable and elderly can be protected from cold callers and mail order firms.
Mrs Shilling, of Castlehill Drive, Cradlehall, said the last the family knew of her father’s finances he had about £17,000 in his account.
‘When we saw how much he had in the last month or two it was down to about £5,000,’ she said. ‘We think he spent more than this over the last few years. He was going in and withdrawing £900 in cash at a time and what he was doing with the money we do not know. All we do know is he was paying out about £200 a week and he was spending less and less on food.’
Her father kept up to date with his bill payments, however, and has left no debts. As well as books and charities, he was persuaded to buy hundreds of pounds worth of herbal supplements by telesales companies that phoned him at home.
Some of the tablets could have had a dangerous interaction with his blood-thinning medication and one of the mail-order herbal supplement firms has agreed to refund the family £500.
Although they have done nothing illegal, Mrs Shilling believes some of the sales tactics used on her father were unscrupulous.
She said Reader’s Digest sent him letters saying the purchases earned him honorary points on its customer database for prize draws and he started to believe he was going to win something.
‘He was telling us they were going to collect him in a car and take him down to London,’ she said. ‘He was even asking us if we were free on those dates because he was allowed to take us too.’
Readers Digest declined to comment on the case.
Yesterday Mr Alexander said everyone had a duty to care for the elderly and companies and charities using direct debit were no exception.
‘I am looking into this with my Highland Lib-Dem colleagues and we will do everything we can both to ensure a satisfactory outcome for the family and to make it clear to all companies and charities that they must take a responsible approach to direct debits,’ he said.
Highland Council’s champion for older people, Kate Stephens, said the case highlighted a growing problem and the local authority was organising a seminar to address the issue.
‘The environment is changing,’ she said. ‘People are not aware of all the new ways for financial abuse to occur. The support that is offered needs to be reviewed to make sure that it is fit-for-purpose.’
However, Cradlehall councillor Carolyn Caddick believed the organisations involved had done nothing illegal.
‘You couldn’t even argue that they were morally wrong because they probably were not even aware of the situation this chap was in,’ she said. ‘This is just something that people need to be aware of, about how vulnerable people are when they are elderly.’
Reader’s Digest prize draws are the world’s most famous, but not always for the right reasons; whilst many are wowed by the lavish prizes on offer, many more are suspicious of whether anybody actually wins them.
In many ways there shouldn’t be any question about the authenticity of its prize draws. The Reader’s Digest itself is a well-respected publication, which has been rolling out high quality general interest journalism since its foundation 1922. Although not as popular now as it once was, the Digest still manages to shift around 18 million copies and attract a readership of an estimated 80 million across the world.
Over its lifetime the Reader’s Digest has been a ground breaker. In addition to its journalistic endeavours, it lays claim to inventing the condensed novel, pioneering prize draws and revolutionising direct mail marketing. However, its efforts in the latter two fields have tainted its revered reputation in many people’s eyes, giving rise to a less prestigious title as the grand master of junk mail.
Many first experiences with the Reader’s Digest don’t begin with the journal itself, but with the receipt of an enticing letter informing them that are through to the last round of a prize draw. All the recipient needs to do to stand a chance of winning vast sums of cash is fill in the enclosed forms and send them back.
Invariably the win never materialises and the person finds themselves being lumbered with copies of the magazine they never wanted plus demands for payment. Ultimately they discover that by surrendering their contact information they have unwittingly become a target for the world’s most unforgiving direct mail operation.
Can Buying the Reader’s Digest Improve Chances of Winning?
This fiendish operation has been accused of using its cleverly orchestrated mail literature to infer that if the recipient took out a subscription or bought one the many mail order products on offer then they stand a good chance of winning the Reader’s Digest prize draw.
This would of course be against all the rules of competition but this fact hasn’t stopped people from ordering items they don’t want in the misguided belief that the prize draw is fixed in such a way.
In fact this direct mail tactic has hoodwinked so many people out of money, and generated so many lucrative subscriptions, that the company was taken to court in 2001 to settle allegations of tricking the elderly into buying their products. The Reader’s Digest must now make it clear that all entries stand an equal chance of winning whether or not accompanied by an order.
In the End, is it all Worth it?
But are all the frustrations tied up with entering a Reader’s Digest prize draw worth it in the end? Do people really win?
People do win, but whether one takes out a magazine subscription or not, the chances of doing so are incredibly low. As a prize draw that is heavily advertised and runs over a long period of time, it attracts an incredible number of entrants. It is believed that a single entry stands a 1 in 17 million chance of hitting the jackpot.
The odds on winning are therefore even lower than the notoriously outlandish National Lottery jackpot, and that does at least offer the winner millionaire status.
So in conclusion, it seems that there are so many doubts about whether anybody actually wins the Reader’s Digest prize draw because in reality so few people actually do.
Tom Champagne, who has died aged 70, became the public face of the British Reader’s Digest as its longest serving and most renowned Prize Draw Manager.
For almost 15 years, Champagne was the “front man” in the selection and presentation of the company’s awards, distributing more than £6 million in prize money to hundreds of winners. It is estimated that his name appeared on close to a billion marketing promotions during that time .
To Reader’s Digest management the unusual surname, of French-Canadian origin, seemed problematic at first: they predicted that no one would believe “Tom Champagne” really existed, and proposed that he adopt a pseudonym for their promotional leaflets. Tom Champagne, however, refused to conceal his identity, and took to carrying his birth certificate as proof that his real name was not the invention of an overenthusiastic copy writer.
Prize winners were not always easy to locate: Champagne sometimes had to track them down as far afield as Australia and the Falklands.
The top prize of £250,000 was given away twice a year at congratulatory lunches. Television celebrities were recruited to hand over the big cheque, but egos were sometimes bruised when it became apparent that the latest lucky winner was keener to meet Tom Champagne than the highly-paid star.
Tom Champagne was born at Reading on January 27 1943, and after his parents separated he was brought up in London by his mother, his Canadian father returning to his homeland.
From the age of 11 he attended Salesian College, a Roman Catholic grammar school in Battersea .
After leaving education at the age of 18 he worked in publishing .
He met his wife-to-be Jenny at a youth club in Streatham, and in 1975 the couple moved to Canada. They had two sons, but subsequently divorced.
On returning to London in 1980, Champagne joined Reader’s Digest as a credit controller , becoming Prize Draw Manager in the early 1990s. After his retirement in 2003 he was replaced as Prize Draw Manager by Nicholas Shelley. On his BBC radio breakfast show Terry Wogan quipped: “Surely they mean Nicholas Sherry!”
In 2009 Champagne moved to Hoy, Orkney, where he ran a self-catering business with his partner, Nadia, at Cantick Head Lighthouse.
Tom Champagne, born January 27 1943, died May 2 2013
The female Gang That Terrorised 19th century London
The Forty Elephants, sometimes called the Forty Thieves, terrorized London’s West End district and the provinces from their base at Elephant and Castle. (The name is derived from a local coaching inn.)
The very mention of the name The Forty Elephants, a crime syndicate made up exclusively of young women, would send shivers down the spines of West End shop owners. The gang, ruled by a formidable “Queen” who was feared by other criminals, became so well known that panic would erupt in high-class stores if one of their members was even spotted outside.
MOMENTS earlier, the posh Central London department store had been a picture of serenity.
A succession of black hansom cabs from south of the Thames rolled to a halt outside Selfridges department store on London’s Oxford Street. It was the autumn of 1915 and out of each cab, three or four smartly dressed women descended. In their individual groups, they walked purposefully into the shop, as a chauffeured limousine came gliding to a stop behind them.
From the running-board of the motor car stepped a tall, handsome woman in magnificent furs, who swept into Selfridges like a queen.
In the space of the next hour, the women proceeded to loot a fortune in jewellery and clothes. They did it without causing any disturbance, without even being suspected.
The only sign of anything untoward was that all of these elegant ladies looked much bulkier as they sauntered out of the store.
The magnificent woman who had arrived in motorised splendour appeared to be suddenly obese. And well she might. Concealed under her dress were two sable coats, bundled up and stowed in hidden pockets within her petticoats.
Her name was Alice Diamond, acknowledged by one leading detective 100 years ago to be ‘queen of the cleverest gang of hoisters’ (or shoplifters) in London.
Her all-female gang was known as the Forty Elephants, partly because they all lived within half a mile of the Elephant And Castle pub in Southwark, and partly because, when they waddled out of shops laden with stolen merchandise, the women joked that they looked like elephants.
Their clothes were designed for large-scale theft. Slits in the outer garments fed into capacious pockets cunningly sewn into the layers beneath. This was an era when bustles and acres of crinoline were still worn, and the amount of contraband a female thief could conceal beneath her dress was limited only by her daring and ambition.
A 19-year-old arrested at William Whiteley’s emporium in Bayswater, West London, was discovered to have a bag made of alpaca fur suspended from her waist, hanging down to her knees. Police counted 45 stolen items inside.
Another woman would wear a false arm in her blouse while her real arm, unseen, was busy pilfering.
The gang worked in small groups because a party of friends shopping together would not arouse suspicion, and were able to distract the store assistants much more easily than one woman working alone.
A favourite technique was for three of the girls, chattering excitedly, to start trying on dresses or hats, dropping them on the floor or draping them over counters in their eagerness to try on the next.
Behind them, their ‘queen’, Alice Diamond, would stroll in. She didn’t pay them any attention and they didn’t so much as look at her.
Of course, the assistants would be far too busy with the noisy girls to attend to this quietly browsing newcomer.
Casually, Alice would put down her coat to examine some item, and then pick it up again. The coat was enormous, and only the sharpest eyes could have spotted that each time Alice picked it up, she scooped up other clothes, too.
Sometimes, Alice operated even in stores where she was known as a thief. This was a psychological ruse she called the ‘decoy’ — while the staff were watching her every step, an accomplice was behind them stuffing armfuls of clothes under her own dress.
Another technique was called the ‘crush’. A crowd of women would press around the counter and one would demand to be shown trinkets or make-up. Handing the goods to the woman next to her, she would then vigorously deny ever touching them.
The second woman would pass them straight on, and so would the next, until the stolen items ended up with an accomplice at the back of the crush who would leave the store while all the other women were volubly protesting their innocence.
Jewel thefts demanded different techniques. One method was the ‘ringer’, where a gang member would ask to examine an expensive brooch or necklace, study it minutely, and then decline to buy it.
Working from memory, she would have a forger make an exact imitation from paste and glass. A second thief would then go to the shop, ask to see the item, and switch it for the fake under the assistant’s nose.
Perhaps the cheekiest of the Forty Elephants’ ruses was the ‘chewing gum scam’. After America entered World War I in 1917, gum was suddenly fashionable, and the women would walk around shops ostentatiously chewing.
One would press a ball of gum under the ledge of the jewellery counter, ask to see a selection of rings, and then stick one into the wad. If detectives searched her, she would have nothing incriminating on her. Meanwhile, an accomplice would waltz past the counter, collecting the ring as she went.
After a successful day’s ‘hoisting’, the gang would descend on a West End hotel and start carousing at the bar, ordering freely and flirting with the staff. They’d be back the next day and the next, because the Forty Elephants went shoplifting five days a week.
Soon, the girls would seem like part of the hotel fabric. The waiters would treat them more like friends than customers. That’s when Alice and her crew went to work, sweeping the rooms for everything they could lift in one co-ordinated wave of theft, before vanishing into the night-time streets.
Every Monday, when the department stores were at their quietest and the assistants and store detectives were least harassed, the gang took the day off — and partied riotously. Vast quantities of alcohol were consumed, and some of the gangsters (though not Alice) were heavy cocaine users, too.
Alice Diamond was such a confident trickster that once, when she was being questioned outside a jeweller’s after a theft, she managed to get rid of the evidence by slipping the stolen bracelet into a detective’s pocket.
But she was no gentle-lady. Standing nearly 5ft 9in tall, a full fist higher than the average London man in 1915, she was broad-boned and strong. During her first arrest, as a teenager, it took three policemen to hold her down. Whereas some women fought with hat-pins, Alice carried a steel blackjack and wore diamond rings for knuckle-dusters.
The oldest of eight children, she was born at Lambeth Workhouse Infirmary, where the actor Charlie Chaplin lived as a child, in 1896.
From her first moments, life was tough. Workhouse conditions were deliberately harsh, to discourage their use by any but the most desperate cases. Her father Thomas was an illiterate, violent man, who had been jailed for assaulting a policeman and who stole whatever he could lay his hands on.
In 1913, aged 17, Alice received her first jail sentence, six weeks in Holloway prison for stealing blouses from Gamages department store in Holborn Circus.
Her criminal tendencies were fuelled not only by the poverty of her childhood and her father’s lifetime of petty theft, but also her aspirations. Alice wanted much more than money for food and lodgings. She wanted glamour. This was the era of silent film, when the first cinema heroines, such as Pearl White in The Perils Of Pauline, were enticing young women to dream of romance and adventure.
There was no hope of this on a housemaid’s pay. For the likes of Alice Diamond, destiny was bleak: become a servant or a laundress, marry into poverty, have countless children and own nothing. There were three escape routes.
One was suicide, an increasingly frequent resort for women with no means of support, especially once gas ovens became commonplace.
Another was prostitution, though this was a grim prospect, often leading to alcohol abuse and disease.
The third was crime. For a stupid thief, this was perhaps the worst choice of all, because it could quickly lead to a lifetime of hard labour in jail. But Alice was not a stupid thief. She was a professional — and meticulous — one.
Before Alice was 20, she had learned how to ‘put on the posh’ as she called it — dressing, talking and looking like her film idols.
Her gang did not wear what they stole. That would be asking for trouble. Instead, they took it to fences such as Alfie Hughes, who paid only a small percentage of the contraband’s real worth but settled, crucially, in cash and on the spot.
Alfie was husband to Maggie Hughes, Alice’s closest ally in the Forty Elephants. Nicknamed Babyface, Maggie was tiny, under 4ft 11in, with brown hair and grey eyes, but her personality was less nondescript.
With tattoos on both arms and a psychotic temper, Maggie was uncontrollable when drunk — and she was almost always drunk.
She also had a flair for the bizarre — she drove a Ford V8 car with a periscope on the roof, so she could spot police before they saw her. As the Forty Elephants became well-known in London’s West End, they began to target stores across the country. In their powerful cars, it was easy to raid Bath, Brighton, Bristol and the Midlands, and get back before midnight to the South London lock-ups, where they stored their bounty.
By the Twenties, Maggie’s violent outbursts meant she spent most of her time in jail and, when she was out, she could no longer be trusted as an accomplice.
But however strained relationships became within the gang, there was one unbreakable rule: the Forty Elephants stood by their own. They were a clan, and all outsiders were enemies.
Gang members, such as Eva Fraser — big sister of the Kray Twins’ associate, ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser — were Elephants for life.
One of the rare occasions one of the girls was caught stealing was in 1923, when Maggie Hughes ran out of a jeweller’s with a tray of diamond rings – straight into a policeman’s arms.
After Diamond was succeeded as Queen in the 1930s, the gang’s notoriety faded and was eventually forgotten. MacDonald says: “Until now these young women have hardly got a mention in history books. Hopefully now they will get starring roles.”
It was inevitable, then, that when that code was broken, the reign of Queen Alice would end. One of the girls, Marie Britten, fell in love with a boy who didn’t come from Southwark. Pregnant, she defied Alice’s orders and married her lover.
On the night of December 20, 1925, Alice, Maggie and most of the gang gathered at the Canterbury Social Club near Lambeth’s New Cut market and drank themselves into a fighting mood. Armed with bottles, stones and lumps of concrete, they marched to Marie’s lodgings, smashed their way in and held Marie at gunpoint while her husband was beaten senseless.
Police broke up the riot and arrested the gang. Alice was jailed for 18 months. Maggie, who had incited the riot, got 21 months.
While they were inside, a new queen took over the gang.
Lilian Rose Kendall, known as the Bobbed-Haired Bandit because of her short fringe and side curls, specialised in smash-and-grab raids. Lilian was a daring getaway driver, who used her car to smash through jewellers’ windows, such as Cartier’s in Bond Street.
By now, Alice Diamond was out of prison, but she couldn’t hope to compete with such energetic crimes. She ran a brothel in Lambeth for years, a godmother figure to the new generation and always willing to pass on tips for shoplifters.
During World War II she refused to be evacuated from London, and died in 1952, aged just 55, from multiple sclerosis. From time to time in later life, she would be arrested, but she was usually too clever for the courts.
After one acquittal, an exasperated magistrate asked her why she did not like policemen.
Her reply was vehemently political: ‘Police forces are set up by governments to stop others getting a share of what they’ve got!’
Whatever else Alice Diamond did, she got her share.
The Female Gang That Terrorised London, by Brian McDonald, published by Milo Books
America’s First Gold-To-Go ATM
Once upon a time….
Last year, if you were heading towards the food court in the Town Center Mall in Boca Raton, you would want some extra cash in your pocket to buy a solid gold coin or bar made of .999% pure gold.
That’s right, I said solid gold coin or gold bar. Here is the lowdown on America’s first ever gold dispensing kiosk located on Florida’s gold coast.
Installing the gold-coated Gold to Go vending machine was the brainchild of local entrepreneur Michael Hiler, President of PMX Communities, Inc. (PMX). PMX, headquartered on Glades Road in Boca Raton, was in the business of leasing, purchasing and operating gold mines and retailing gold products.
A friend suggested to Hiler that he read an article in the Wall Street Journal about the world’s first gold dispensing machine operating in the Emeritus Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. In Asia and the Middle East consumers are accustomed to buying gold bars, bullion and jewelry according to its fine gold content or gross weight.
Hiler thought this sounded like a great idea that might work in the U.S. because Americans are showing an ever-increasing interest in precious metals, particularly gold and silver.
For Hiler, deciding where to put the machine was a no-brainer. He wanted it in Boca Raton. That way he could operate the machine and iron out kinks before expanding to other malls in Florida and around the country.
Once Hiler decided to move forward, he contacted the German manufacturer of the gold ATM, Ex Oriente Lux. His company purchased the vending machine that is capable of holding and vending about 0,000.00 in gold.
Hiler easily negotiated a lease at the Town Center Mall and installed the machine with great media fanfare near the food court.
Hiler carefully timed the installation of his gold ATM. It was set up on the evening of December 16th, 2010, just in time to entice last minute Christmas gift shoppers.
You needed cash to make a gold purchase because the machine did not accept credit or debit cards. However, Hiler said the kiosk was designed to accept cards in the future. There were two conveniently located cash ATMs in the mall near the kiosk.
You may be wondering what you can buy from the machine and how it worked. It was not complicated. The machine was stocked with newly minted Credit Suisse gold bullion bars guaranteed .999 pure, and 22K U.S. minted American Eagle gold coins.
The bars could be purchased according to their weight in either grams or ounces. The coins come in ½ or 1 ounce sizes. The Gold to Go machine adjusted its prices throughout the day to reflect the current market price of gold. You could expect to pay anywhere from 0.00 to 00 depending on the size and weight of the bullion.
To buy gold, you simply chose the bar or coin you wanted, inserted cash, and the machine dispensed your gold in an attractive black gift box along with a receipt and your change.
If you visited the Gold to Go kiosk you might meet a PMX associate to assist and answer questions about how to use the machine.
However, you would not receive investment advice about the pros and cons of buying gold. That’s not why they were there.
The gold coins and bars came with a money-back guarantee as long as you returned the gold within 10 days, had the original receipt, and the seal on the coin pocket was not broken.
You were refunded the purchase price +/- the percentage change of the gold price (London fixing) between the date of purchase and the date on which the product arrived.
Who was buying gold from the Boca Raton machine? Lots of people.
Consumers came from as far away as Naples, Fort Myers, and Miami to buy gold in December. Visiting snowbirds also bought their fair share. According to Hiler, the most popular product was the 5 gram gold bar. He also said some customers who purchased the smaller items called him later to trade them for a 1 ounce bar or coin.
While at the mall doing research for an article I wrote about Hiler and the gold machine, I observed and spoke with several people buying gold, while onlookers hovered around the kiosk with cameras in hand.
In case you are interested, the very first person to buy gold from the very first gold dispensing machine in the United States was Milton Schneider from Boca Raton.
However, Schneider is not the person in the photo above.
copyright – Mark Mathosian