If you were to receive a notice in the mail informing you that you had won a prize, or were due some money in a class action settlement, you might be willing to pay $20 or more to get your money.

Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler says doing so would be a big mistake. He has filed charges against a Florida company called Synchronicity LLC and its owner, accusing them of deceptive trade practices in connection with their mailings to Maryland consumers.

According to the complaint, the company mailed tens of thousands of solicitations offering large cash prizes and other valuable items; however, consumers who responded to the mailings received little or nothing in return.

A company of many names

Synchronicity reportedly used various names, including Office of Financial Services Administration, Lynch Galbraith & Branley, Class Action Watchdog, and Prize Payment Administration Service, as if it were a government agency, a firm handling class actions, or a prize company, and represented that consumers were eligible to receive cash grants, awards, or prizes valued at millions of dollars.

A California attorney alerted ConsumerAffairs.com to this scheme 18 months ago.

Consumers receiving the letters were told that to collect the prize or money they were due, they must send what was called an "entitlement," "procurement," or "allocation" fee, usually of $20, but sometimes more, to a post office box in Hagerstown, Md.

Those $20 payments quickly added up. By the time the state stepped in, the Attorney General's Office alleges that consumers sent more than $2 million to the Hagerstown post office box. And what did the consumers get in return? Sometimes a check for $1, sometimes nothing of any value, Gansler says.

Deceptive mailings

The state contends that the mailings were deceptive and is seeking an order requiring the company and its owner to cease sending deceptive offers to Marylanders or using a Maryland address, to return the fees collected, and to pay penalties and costs.

"Consumers should always be wary of any offer that seems too good to be true," said Attorney General Gansler.  "You should not believe these types of promises of large awards, and never pay a fee to receive a prize."