How to safeguard promotion efforts

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Contest fraud in promotions may be more widespread than realized because the majority of vendor cases in which fraud is suspected are never reported, according to a top fraud investigator. "The negative backlash of reporting a scandal involving an outside supplier is huge, so companies go out of their way to avoid prosecuting offenders in order to avoid the type of damaging publicity McDonald's has suffered with the Simon [Marketing] situation," said Carl Pergola, a partner in the fraud investigations division of the New York accounting firm BDO Seidman.

Following is advice from experts for safeguarding a promotion:

n Don't put too much faith in time-honored systems for administering games and overseeing promo agencies. "Having one person seed the game pieces for several years, as was the case with Simon Marketing, is too long for anyone to have that job," said Mr. Pergola. "The function ought to rotate, and there should be a someone from the outside, such as a security or accounting firm, who also rotates, to supervise the seeding of the game, in order to avoid the possibility of collusion."

n Conduct independent background checks periodically on the agency personnel administering prizes for games. Promotion law expert Linda Goldstein, a partner with the New York law firm Hall Dickler Kent Goldstein & Wood and chairman of the Promotion Marketing Association's litigation committee, said, "Marketers conducting a promotion involving prizes ought to have a team of in-house people working with the promotion agency and an outside security firm evaluating the game's administration and the people involved at all levels."

n Be selective in choice of vendors, and closely monitor the backgrounds of security personnel overseeing prize promotions on a regular basis "to detect changes in financial activity, such as a top security person suddenly buying a lot of real estate or other property," said Mr. Pergola.

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