TAMPA (FOX 13) -
The envelopes look like they’re from a forgotten friend or maybe a long-lost relative. The floral return address label is akin to the kind grandma would use.
But these letters from Mary Evans and Patricia Smith aren't personal at all. This is business.
Inside the envelopes is an invitation for a “marketing study” along with an offer for a free tablet computer – complete with “FREE” typed out in bold, capital letters. It is addressed from CCD Research, LLC.
The survey is simple. With a total of just nine questions, it asks recipients for basic ratings like “battery life” and “screen brightness.”
AN “F” RATING
The Better Business Bureau says the letters are a ruse.
"CCD Research has an F rating," said Holly Salmons, Vice President of the BBB in central Florida.
Salmons said the BBB has received numerous complaints about the letters. Consumers says they never receive a free tablet. When BBB investigators looked into the complaints, they never received a response from CCD research.
"Any company that is unresponsive is a red flag for us," Salmons said. BUSINESS ADDRRESS
We visited the addresses on the envelope. But we did not find businesses. We found homes.
When we checked Volusia County property records, we discovered that the homes are owned by neither Patricia Smith, Mary Evans, nor CCD research.
Neighbors said they have noticed an unusually large amount of deliveries to the “Mary Evans” home.
"They were getting lots of mail,” said Mike Ridgway. He lives next door to “Mary Evans” on River Knoll Lane. “Nobody would pick it up. It was just right there on their front door."
The BBB believes Patricia Smith and Mary Evans are imaginary.
"We don't really know what's happening inside those homes," Salmons said. RESEARCH QUESTIONED
CCD Research, LLC is not listed in Florida’s Division of Corporations.
And University of Tampa marketing professor Erika Matulich, who teaches survey design, said she has never heard of CCD research.
"That would not be one of the top opinion polling firms," she said.
Matulich reviewed the CCD survey and concluded it is unlikely a tablet manufacturer would give away a $100 to $300 product for answering nine elementary questions.
"It doesn't even come close to what a legitimate surveyor would be looking for," she said. "This is a red flag."
Our investigation found the CCD Research website is registered to a company called Dudley Media Group, which is located in Las Vegas, Nevada.
We contacted Dudley Media Group about its connection to CCD research, but did not receive a response.
NEW LETTERS, OLD LANGUAGE
Recently, viewers have sent us new “”free tablet” letters. They include exactly the verbiage as the old ones, down to the bold letter capital letters reading “FREE.” The exception is that the offers are now addressed from and include the logo for Dudley Media Group.
Like CCD research, the BBB says Dudley Media Group has earned an “F” rating.
"That is the lowest rating that we offer," Salmons.
Consumers who have complained to BBB say the short survey leads to a long sales pitch for a travel club, not a free tablet.
"They're actually attending a travel club presentation put on by Global Vacation Network," Salmons said. "The letter is basically the bait that gets you in the door."
FREE AIRLINE TICKETS
The Global Vacation Network is the firm at the center of our ongoing quest for “complimentary” airline tickets.
Roughly six months ago we received a mailer offering complimentary tickets for two with a value of up to $1,400. The letter was addressed from U.S. Airlines – which is not registered as an air carrier in the U.S.
Even though we knew the airline was fake, we chose to diligently follow (and document) the path. Here’s a recap:
I called in immediately, attended a two-hour-long, high-pressure travel club sales pitch in Florida, mailed a form to Pennsylvania, received a second packet, paid a $5 processing fee by money order, and then mailed that form to Arizona.
We have carefully followed their directions and jumped through their every hoop for six months. Yet, I have not received my “free” airline tickets.
Eventually, I am supposed to receive a voucher for the tickets.
"The Better Business Bureau recommends consumers proceed with caution in engaging CCD Research, Dudley Media Group, and Global Vacation Network."
When we cornered the company that receives Global Vacation Network vouchers, Prestige Travel, president Ron Lascala insisted conscientious recipients fly for free.
“They fly,” he said, if they follow directions.
The process is concluded and, apparently, lengthy. Lascala conceded his business model is based on most recipients giving up on the process.
"It's very much like an insurance company,” he said. “If I sold you an insurance policy and everybody died next week, I'd be out of business."
We sought comment from the Global Vacation Network. We asked whether it has any connection to the “free” tablet mailers. We are also curious if it has any insight into my free airline tickets. But we have not received a response.
In the past, a Global Vacation Network representative has said the company is not responsible for ground-level marketing, such as offering “free” airline tickets and “free” tablets. The spokesman said those bulk-mailed flyers originate in third-party companies.
The Better Business Bureau recommends consumers proceed with caution in engaging CCD Research, Dudley Media Group, and Global Vacation Network.
"Whether it be a free trip, free airline tickets, or a free tablet, beware," Salmons said.
OUR NEXT ASSIGNMENT
It remains unclear exactly what the Global Vacation Network is selling consumers.
"Reporters give up for the same reason consumers give up: It's a lot of work to connect the dots," Salmons said.
We are not giving up. This is our next assignment: we are committed to learning more about the Global Vacation Network, its product, and the mass marketing it employs.
Also, I am determined to get those airline tickets.
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