You’ve Won 89¢! Just Send in $20 to Collect

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Apparently, it’s totally legal to scam people, so long as you inform them they’re being scammed in the fine print. How brilliant! And how evil!

The Los Angeles Times‘ David Lazarus highlights an offer you may have received in the mail sent from something called Sentry Armored Dispatch. Hopefully, the last time you saw such a letter was just before it left your hands and went into the trash.

Google the words “Sentry Armored Dispatch” and you’ll see that many people didn’t automatically assume the letter, which promises $898,899 in prize money to recipients, is worse than plain old junk mail. It is a scam. Worst of all, it’s a legal scam.

(MORE: 5 Ways to Recognize a Financial Scam)

The letter boldfaces how recipients have won the lofty sum. All that a person needs to do in order to collect is send in a check for $20.

Needless to say, no one winds up winning $898,899—or $898,879 after the $20 is deducted from the equation. The net result is that “winners” get 89¢, or a net loss of $19.11 after mailing in a $20 check (not counting postage).

How is any of this legal? The odds of winning must be presented in any sweepstakes or lottery, and the Sentry Armored Dispatch letter lists its odds in the fine print. Despite the implication on the envelope and at the top of the letter, the small type notes that the company “doesn’t guarantee the cash or prizes advertised,” and that while the odds of receiving the top prize ($898,899) are 1 in 898,899, the odds of winning 89¢ are 1 to 1. In other words, you’re 100% guaranteed to “win” 89¢. And you only have to send in $20 to be a winner!

So long as the odds are stated and are accurate, the contest (i.e., scam) is entirely legal. How’s that for a reminder to read the fine print—and to brush up on your math skills.

Now, on to another mystery: Why did these scammers choose such a weird, non-rounded dollar figure for the prizes? Why not $1 million rather than $898,899? There has to be some reason; an odd dollar total must somehow make the scam more believable, less obviously scammy.

(MORE: 5 Tips to Avoid Getting Scammed)

Then again, who cares about the quirky dollar amount. In his column, Lazarus offers the only piece of advice you really need to make note of to avoid getting suckered:

Let me say right here that whenever anyone tells you to send in money to receive money, don’t do it. It’s almost certainly a bad idea.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.