NEWPORT NEWS -- Donna Barrows and Carolyn Gregory are sisters who want to protect their mother. The elderly Newport News woman, who doesn't want to be identified, is in her 80's and receives about 12 mailings a day from companies pushing sweepstakes or contests. The problem is, she believes she can win and routinely sends in entry fees in hopes of collecting a cash prize.
"They're making promises that they're going to keep winning money and they keep sending letters over, and the mail keeps increasing," says a frustrated Burrows, who now intercepts her mother's mail but not after her mother wrote numerous checks to various companies.
"I would say around $4,000 but it could be a little bit more than that," she added.
The mailings offer chances to solve a puzzle or play a game. Generally, the first few mailings have easy questions which lure you to the next step.
Ninety percent of the mail has a Kansas City, Missouri return address of 1401 Armour Road. That's the headquarters of Opportunities Unlimited, one of the companies targeting Barrows' mother.
The Better Business Bureau lists Opportunities Unlimited as having 16 alternate names, including International Award Payment Center, Contest America Publishers and North American Awards Center. The BBB gives Opportunities Unlimited an "F" rating.
In 2009, according the BBB, it could not get Opportunities Unlimited to produce the contact information of ten people they identified as winners in their contests. The BBB learned, seven of the ten were deceased.
In 2002, the Missouri Attorney General forced Opportunities Unlimited to fork over more than $44,000 to pay back customers for what the then attorney general, Jeremiah Nixon, called "unfair or deceptive trade practices." The state of Kansas did the same. At least, two other states and the continent of Australia have taken action against Opportunities Unlimited.
Missouri's Attorney General Press Secretary, Nanci Gonder, says they have been monitoring the company very closely and haven't noticed any violations of the 2002 consent agreement; although, they plan to take another look.
Once, Barrows and Gregory's mother files an official complaint, Gonder says the company could face legal action if violations are identified. Gonder says her office has been successful in getting names removed from the mailing lists once they issue a complaint.
Norfolk FBI spokesperson Vanessa Torres says companies come up with what they call a "sucker's list." Your name goes on it the second you send money in to play into a contest. Often times, the elderly are targeted and it's very hard to stop the mailings. Also, one sweepstakes company sells to another.
"They know each other. They know who to sell the names to and they are making a profit," says Torres.
But according to Opportunities Unlimited, Barrows' mother was taken off the list in April and she was refunded a little more than $800. Barrows' says she declined the refund offer because it was far less than what her mother paid. She's hoping to fight for more and educate other people at the same time to beware.
If you or someone you know may be a victim of Opportunities Unlimited, click here to file a complaint.