When I was a teen, I was really into sports. Growing up in Wisconsin, the Green Bay Packers were like a second religion to me with Brett Favre as my lord and savior.
One Saturday at the age of 14, I slept in late. With eager footsteps, I went down the stairs to my living room just in time to catch the Badger football game. My father approached the couch and handed me a letter. I was pleasantly surprised to receive mail at that age as this was an infrequent occurrence. I excitedly opened this letter addressed to me from a company called Perfekt Prediktions, Inc.
Dear Mr. Gilpin,
We are writing to inform you about our Perfikt Prediktion Program. We can say to a certainty that the Packers will win the game against the Dolphins on Sunday 09/14/1997. You can enroll in our program for one low payment of $50 to receive more Prediktions. We know. We watch. We win.
Included was an envelope that contained a PO box number. My father inquired about the contents of the letter. I reluctantly told him. Without even really listening to me, he took it from my hands and threw it in the garbage.
I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian home and my father took the portions of the Bible that decry gambling very seriously. In a condescending tone and referring to me as Jakey, which I hated, he took this opportunity to go into a long diatribe about the evils of betting. I pretended to listen as I watched the action on the field unfold on my TV.
Wouldn’t you know it, the Packers won. I figured the company had a 50-50 shot and did not put too much weight into the prediction I had received in the mail. However, curious as to what may be in the mailbox, I dutifully checked it throughout the week before my father got to it. Lo and behold, I received another letter from Perfikt Prediktions, Inc. that Saturday. The letter read,
Dear Mr. Gilpin,
We hope you enjoyed the Prediktion made last week. We can say to a certainty that the Patriots will win the game against the Bears on Sunday 09/21/1997. You can enroll in our program for one low payment of $75 to receive more Prediktions. We know. We watch. We know. We collect. Pay.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t somewhat astonished when the Patriots handily defeated the Bears the following day.
And so it continued for the next two weeks. I went behind my father’s back and took the letters before he could see them. To my building incredulity, the predictions were correct.
Four weeks in a row!
What are the chances of that?
However, the price kept climbing. The letter had asked for $125. I went to my bank that Saturday afternoon and pulled out my meager savings. This was just enough to cover the cost. I was going to mail in the money but something gave me pause. I decided to mull it over until Monday after class.
And, at the time, I was glad I did so.
I was taking a statistics course. My teacher gave a lesson on common misconceptions involving statistics. She talked about the Gambler’s Fallacy. The idea that, if you toss a fair coin and it lands on heads, tails becomes more likely with the next toss. However, the next toss will be a 50-50 shot just like the first one. Same goes for your chances at a slot machine. They don’t improve with each pull. The likeliness of winning (and losing for that matter) remains the same. She then went on to describe scams that have used statistical advantage to con people. My ears perked up when she described one in particular that could not be more pertinent.
It works by the scammer sending out hundreds of letters with sports predictions on them. Since statistically half of them will be correct, they send out a second letter to the people who had received the correct prediction and so on until you have a small pool of people enthusiastically parting with their money after four or five correct predictions in a row.
I was stunned and pissed to say the least. I was so excited about the possibilities and furious that I had almost spent my savings on a scam. So livid in fact, that I wrote a letter to Perfikt Prediktions, Inc. filled with expletives and vitriol. I thought that they would get the hint when I called them out, but old habits die hard. I hovered around the mailbox for the remainder of the week. To my utter astonishment, I received a letter that Saturday. It simply stated,
$1000. Pay. Two chances. We collect.
I chuckled to myself. They had really outdone themselves on this one. What a desperate act to try and get my money. They must not have read my letter stating that I was on to them. Like I even had that much money in the first place. I eagerly watched the beginning of the game looking forward to seeing these scammers exposed as the frauds they were.
As Green Bay eked out the victory, I sat in stunned silence. The final score was indeed 24 – 23. My mind raced to derive a logical explanation for this prediction, but I came up short.
The remainder of the week I devised ways to get $1000 but the most I could come up with was $200. My last gambit was to tell a group of friends that I would bet on a Sunday game this Saturday. The way I worded it and approached it seemed suspicious, and I could not find any takers when I refused to name a game until Saturday. With resignation, I gave up my career as an aspiring sports better without it even getting off the ground.
Another Saturday, another letter from Perfikt Prediktions. I gleefully opened it to find this.
Jason Richards 0
Perfikt Prediktions 11,034
$5000. Pay. Last chance. We collect.
I stared at the letter. I was completely perplexed. That name looked familiar. There was a kid two years older than me that played Varsity for my school with that name. In fact, he was the star player. Is that what they meant? What kind of score was that? As I searched my mind over and over again for an explanation as to what it meant, I turned up nothing. I stayed awake that night incapable of sleeping while futilely attempting to solve the riddle of the letter.
How I wish it had remained a mystery.
It wasn’t until Wednesday that I got my answer. The school was alive with gossip. Over the weekend, one of the students went missing. The star quarterback, Jason Richards. He had been asleep in his bedroom Sunday night one minute and, the next, gone never to be found again.
My mind did mental gymnastics to explain how his disappearance was unrelated to the letter I had received. There are hundreds of kids with that name.
What are the chances they meant him?
The next letter I received from Perfikt Prediktions eradicated all doubt in my mind.
I promptly took all the letters and burned them. As I exhausted every possible way to get in touch with this company that seems to only exist in the letters I received and in my mind’s eye, I have spent the last sixteen years trying to forget…
I look at the calendar. Where the fuck did the time go? As the day approaches, my thoughts are consumed by the contents of the last letter.
Jake Gilpin 0
Perfikt Prediktions 11,035
We collect. We always collect.