Yesterday I blogged about programmer Christian Méthot and how he blatantly cheats in contests to win. The Journal de Montreal published a follow-up article.
The experts interviewed say the same things I have been telling clients and prospects for years. Now I have proof that backs up my recommendations, as this is what can happen if the sponsors or agencies don’t implement safeguards, checks, or balances.
NOTE: As the original article was in French, I used Google to translate this article. I did a bit of editing so the sentences flowed, somewhat, properly.
Competition: an almost perfect ploy
Few remedies are available against the programmer who wins competitions repeatedly.
Circumventing the rules by filling tens of thousands of entries to win competitions is reprehensible, but the wise guy who does it is a different story, say legal experts consulted by The Journal.
“Even if there is a fault, I am not convinced that there can be an appeal against it. This guy is strong, “says François Lebeau, consumption and lawyer class action in Unterberg, Labelle, Lebeau.
“This guy” is Christian Methot, of Repentigny. A survey published in the Journal Saturday illustrated that this clever computer programmer flooded contests with thousands of entries by using bogus email addresses.
This scheme enabled him and nine of his relatives, to earn repeat prints and pocket more than $160,000 in prizes. In the lot, there is a car, a snowmobile, and many trips.
For lawyers interviewed by the Journal, there is no doubt that the maneuver Mr. Methot puled is legal. Especially if the competition imposed a limited enrollment to participants.
“If one multiplies the email addresses, one can think that it is beyond reasonable limits. This distorts the results of the computer system and diverts the operation, “said Eric Franchi, specializing in technology law attorney.
Same story for me Frederic Allali, who heads the Montreal firm Allali Brault: “You can not blame someone who finds a mechanism that automates registration. But it is clear that it distorts the game. It’s the fact that it was hidden under several names and several addresses that I see a problem. “
Are there remedies?
Forget the class action
“These are private interests who pay the price of this plot,” says Mr. Franchi, specifying that only a civil remedy would be possible.
“Should be analyzed case by case, but businesses might consider themselves damaged on the visibility and credibility,” he said.
The thing, however, is not easy to establish on Me Allali, since “companies would have given prizes anyway.”
And as for the other participants, they could no longer a class action, believes François Lebeau. “The participants have lost what? They had a very slim chance of winning,” he notes.
A call to the economic crimes section could he afford to pin the sly purpose?
Me Franchi doubts that the police act on a priority since it is not a breach of public order. At least, he said, that the aggrieved companies will deal specifically and massively complaint.
Moreover, a Quebec company recently cheated by such a scheme is said to have received a mixed reception after speaking to the police.
“They said they would call me in a few weeks. Then the detective who contacted me told me that there knew nothing about computers,” said the head of the competition on condition of anonymity.
No more hope for the Régie des alcohols, which it considers that the case is similar to a private dispute.
“This is clearly a ploy,” agrees spokeswoman Joyce Tremblay Me. But if the Authority requires a permit competition, “we do not endorse the contest, which are the responsibility of the organizers,” she says.
But remember the tax authorities
Once a prize is won, it is perfectly legal for an individual to sell it, keep me Franchi. And that’s what blithely Christian Méthot is doing with ten brand new items for sale on Kijiji.
But when it comes to important and regular, it is best to report the tax, because all income must be declared in principle, said the lawyer.
You can protect yourself from these manipulations
It would be easy to protect themselves to avoid manipulations in the registration process, but companies that offer contests sometimes lack of vigilance, argues a computer expert.
“The contest organizers are primarily responsible for their misfortunes,” says Thierry Lavergne, president of Kokomo, a Montreal company that offers several web services to its customers, the contest management.
According to him, some basic measures, and sufficient to prevent abuses.
For example, adding a verification code called CAPTCHA computer may prevent automated mailings participation coupons. These codes can only be detected by a computer and require the intervention of a human to read, then enroll in the right place.
According to Mr. Lavergne, the system set up by Christian Méthot could not thwart the verification code.
Other programmers will grow further by integrating required fields that are invisible to users. Thus, if they are met, it is necessarily by a computer, which generates discharge.
But even without such a locking mechanism, the contest organizer may still uncover a participant who is abusing the system.
Verification can be as simple as opening the database of participants and of exploring for the winner in the file to check how many listings he has recorded.
If it exceeds the limit of entries allowed in the regulations registered with the Régie des alcools, the winner can then be disqualified.
“If we limit the number of entries in a contest, it is also important to control” says Maude Lajoie, lawyer to the Board.
The problem though is that existing programs can randomly pick a winner without even having to open this database.
Read the article to see all the pictures and additional details I couldn’t easily blog about (that don’t need translating).
When I worked at MacLaren McCann as a Contest Manager, if I was doing the drawing, I always opened up the database and checked for cheaters. I would always find some, from Quebec -hmm- and delete their entries, as per the rules (either all of them or leaving one) then conduct the drawing. I had no control if one of the client’s other agencies doing it. (e.g. One well-known food company client had 5 companies working on their cheese account. You can be sure this is where many balls are dropped and not just for contests.)
As for the taxes, there is no income tax on winnings of any kind in Canada. If you sell that prize, depending on what it is, you may be responsible for HST (when selling a car). Tax laws are completely different in the United States. (So much so, I have a whole chapter dedicated to them in my books.) Winners, there must pay income taxes on their prizes. As for income tax on profit made from selling those prizes, I would need an American tax accountant to chime in here.
If you see someone (anyone) cheating, warn the sponsor/agency (by sending them my blog posts on this topic) and recommend they verify all the entries for fraud.
Do you report cheaters to the contest sponsors?