CHAPTER LXXII. GIFT ENTERPRISES.
There are more than two thousand persons in the city of New York, who make their living by conducting gift enterprises. These schemes have various names, but are conducted substantially on the same plan.
The parties engaged in the swindle open an office in some conspicuous place in the city, and announce a grand distribution of prizes for the benefit of some charitable association, such as "The Gettysburg Asylum for Invalid Soldiers and Sailors," "Southern Orphans' Aid Association," etc., etc.; or they announce a grand gift concert, to take place at some public hall at a given time. The tickets to this concert are sold at prices ranging from one to five dollars, the former being the usual price. Directions of other cities are procured, mailing clerks of newspapers are paid for copies of the list of subscribers to their journals, and country newspapers are procured for a similar purpose. A large number of names is thus obtained, and a circular issued, setting forth the scheme, the list of prizes, and the manner of procuring tickets. There is scarcely a place in the United States to which these circulars are not sent. Each of the persons so addressed is requested to act as an agent; and is promised a prize in the distribution if he will use his influence to sell tickets and say nothing of the inducements offered to him, as such knowledge would make others dissatisfied. The prize is said to be worth a great deal, and the party requested to act as agent sets to work promptly, and generally succeeds in getting a number of names and dollars, which he forwards to the managers of the grand concert. No concert is ever held, and no drawing takes place. The money is lost to the senders and pocketed by the swindlers who receive it.
THE BANKERS' AND BROKERS' GIFT ENTERPRISE.
During the winter of 1867-68, a swindler or set of swindlers opened an office in the lower part of Broadway, under the title of "The Bankers' and Brokers' Gift Enterprise." The affair was ostensibly managed by the firm of Clark, Webster &Co. As many thousand persons were victimized by these villains, it is possible that some of our readers may be able to vouch for the statements contained in the following extract concerning the affair, from the Missouri Republican, published in St. Louis.
For some months, certain papers, both in the East and West, have been displaying an enormously large advertisement, of the Bankers' and Merchants' First Grand Presentation Enterprise, to be commenced on Thursday, October 24th, and continued for 'one hundred and fifty days from the date of commencement, at the rate of ten thousand tickets per day.' The scheme was a magnificent one; every ticket holder was entitled to such a premium as would fully insure him against loss - that is, he would draw a prize equal to the money invested, minus five per cent., and would run a risk of winning an enormous prize, of which there were several 'on the bills.'
Of course this spread like wild-fire, the cholera, or yellow fever; hundreds, who should have possessed some discretion, sent their dollars to Clark, Webster &Co., 62 Broadway, New York, expecting to realize handsome fortunes. How they supposed that the proprietors could ever give such premiums, we cannot say; but certain it is they did, and hundreds and thousands have been most fearfully victimized; how, will be easily explained.
The enormous prizes were not in money; they were stocks, and the like, in fancy companies, somewhere - where, we do not know; where a nominal half a million would not be worth half a dollar.
But it was not in the dollar paid for the original ticket that the chief swindle lay. Nearly every man drew a 'prize' and was at once notified, on receiving the sum of five per cent. of the value, it would be forwarded; and as the nature of the prize was not stated, but only its nominal value in money, thousands of persons have, doubtless, sent the five per cent., and will continue to send it, and receive in exchange some worthless oil stock, or a similar valueless piece of paper.
Even in this city, where the people should read the daily papers, and be posted in such swindles, a large number have been victimized, two of whom have furnished us with their experiences, which we give below:
The first is a young man, the son of a well-known politician in this city, but who requests us to suppress his name. A few days since he received the following note:
'You are hereby notified that one of your tickets has drawn a prize valued at two hundred dollars. Five per cent. on this amount will be ten dollars. This amount of assessed per centage must, in all cases, be sent on receipt of this notice, with directions by what express you wish the prize sent. Yours, very respectfully,
'CLARK, WEBSTER &CO.'