My active duty wife paid National American Miss $240 for services that were never utilized. They failed to provide a receipt justifying their action.
In March of 2013 our family received an invitation in the mail from National American Miss (NAM) to enter our daughter, ****** into the NAM South State Pageant. My wife and daughter attended an Open Call session on April 24, 2013 during which ***** was photographed and interviewed by NAM representatives.
When my wife returned from the Open Call with *****, she showed me an advertisement that could lead one to believe that women like ***** ******* ***** *****, ***** ******** etc. were former contestants in the NAM Pageant. What parents would not want their daughters to participate in an event sponsored by an organization that impacted the careers of such successful women? What I did not realize at the time, however, was that none of these women prominently pictured on the NAM advertisement ever competed in a NAM pageant. A closer reading at the bottom of the flyer revealed that these women "participated in Pagents," but not necessarily a NAM pageant.
In ***, the month after the Open Call, ***** received a letter addressed to her from NAM which read; "Congratulations!!! You are an Official State Finalist." Because my wife saw what appeared to be around 100 girls at the Open Call the previous month, we got the impression that ***** was one of a few girls who was chosen as a "State Finalist" within her age category. When my wife went with ***** to the "Pageant Prep Training Session" on *** 28, 2013 at the ******** ******* ******, my wife was told that she had to pay $240 in order for ***** to continue in the competition, and another $240 prior to the Pageant weekend scheduled for June 27-30, 2013. Not wanting to disappoint ***** who was standing next to her and who thought she was very special for being named a "State finalist," my wife gave the NAM representative her credit card number from which $240 was deducted.
When my wife informed me what she paid and what additional money she was expected to provide, I asked to see a copy of the document listing the terms she signed authorizing the credit card transaction. When she said she was not provided a document receipt but was only asked to provide her credit card number, I decided to look more carefully at NAM by doing an Internet search. My search revealed numerous entries questioning whether NAM was a scam. One writer wrote: "Research on the net shows that the pageant has been banned in areas, has many complaints, and that the organizer has changed the name of the company many times in the past to avoid lawsuits." Another writer wrote: "While I wouldn't technically call NAMISS a scam, I would call it a money grab. The more you spend, the better chance of winning."
After reading numerous online comments and the NAM materials my wife was given, I discovered numerous other expenses that we would be expected to pay in addition to $535 in NAM fees. Because we (a military family) could not afford all of these expenses (including 3 days of room and meal expenses at a Hilton Hotel), I contacted NAM and requested a refund of our $240 only to be told the fee was "non-refundable." When I requested a copy of the agreement my wife would have signed when providing her credit card number, the NAM representative took my name and phone number and said my request would be forwarded to their accounting office that would contact me. We never received a return call or letter.
Upon receipt of the pageant materials, my wife's attention was drawn to a caption on page 12 entitled "The Bottom Line." The caption identified three fees: Total Sponsor Fee of $480; Production Number Outfit: $40; and Audience Tickets to the Final Show: $15. It then went on to say, "This is what we call the 'bottom line.' There are no other required fees!"
When my wife asked if I thought we should invest $535.00 ($480 + $40 + $15) into this undertaking in which the Pageant winner would receive $1000, I told her that even if ***** were to win, we would end up spending far more than a thousand dollars when you consider lodging and food expenses involved is staying three days at a Hilton Hotel that were not being covered by NAM. The fact is we were never told when we were first contacted that we would have to invest over a $1000 dollars if Sasha were to compete in the NAM Pageant.
An important piece of information that NAM did not provide was how many finalists would Sasha be competing against in the pageant. If a family felt their daughter was one of five finalists in her age category, they might be more inclined to invest their time and money than if she happened to be one out of fifty finalists. The truth of the matter was that when families arrived for the pageant, it was only then they discovered there were no fewer that sixty-three finalists in the Junior Pre-Teen Category from South California. This large number leads me to question if all the girls who entered this contest were contacted and told they were finalists. Collecting $535.00 from 63 girls would yield $33,705. If there were an equal number of "finalists" in each of the six age categories at the pageant, NAM would stand to make $202,230 while only giving away $6000 in cash prizes to the six winners.
In addition to sending this to the Better Business Bureau (of Central Tennessee) with the request that they assist in having our $240 refunded, I will also provide a copy to ***** *********, the NAM State Director:
Mr. ***** *********
National ******** Miss Office
**** ******* ** Ste XXX-XXX
Franklin, TN XXXXX
Additionally, I also intend on sending a copy of my complaint and research to the Official National Prize Sponsors (**** ***** *******, **** ****** ****** ****** ******, ***** ****** *******e, and ******** **********r *******e) recommending they withdraw sponsorship unless NAM implements some important changes (such as the following):
1) Parents be told at the time they are initially invited to participate in the pageant what ALL of the costs, and not simply fees, associated with the pageant may be (e.g., hotel accommodations and food, etc.).
2) NAM disclose to the sponsors and the families exactly how many girls actually entered the competition and how many are being invited back to compete as "finalists."
3) NAM provide signed receipts when they collect money from families that clearly delineate all the conditions associated with the payment (e.g., "This fee if non-refundable even if you later decide not to compete in the pageant.).
4) NAM literature be rewritten so as not to mislead families to think that certain well-known women were former NAM contestants, and that "bottom line" expenses include costs that might not be associated with other pageants (e.g., housing and food allowances for participants).
While I am sure a number of girls have benefited from their participation in NAM competitions, I believe steps need to be taken to overcome some serious problems that I and so many others have uncovered.
I look forward to hearing back from the Better Business Bureau and cannot thank you enough for your assistance in this matter.
Thank you to Mr. ******* for giving me the opportunity to respond to his concerns.
We strive very hard to layout the entire program and all of the details up front before any financial commitments are made on the part of the families. That is the sole purpose of our Open Calls. We send a team around the state, renting meeting space at hotels and hosting free informational sessions about our program which we call, Open Calls.
At those events we spend about 45 minutes talking through the entire program. Each family receives a 16 page printed magazine that clearly details every step of our program and the expenses involved. They are given a short application to fill out with our rules and regulations printed next to the line for parents signature. I will forward the BBB office a copy of the signed application for the family in question here.
While I feel for Mr. ******* it appears that he was brought in on the families decision to participate in the pageant late, that does not justify a refund of the monies paid. All expenses and expectations are laid out in the 45 minute presentation and families are given an opportunity for Q&A afterwards.
After the Open Call, the families are given 4 weeks to make their decision to participate. After 4 weeks we return to the same city, rent the meeting space again, fly in our teams and provide a 2 hour "Pageant Prep Workshop" for the families. This is their decision point; if they have made the decision to participate in the pageant, the first half of their sponsor fee, $240, is due at this time. The second half is due 4 weeks later.
Our no refund policy is clearly explained in the rules and regulations next to the parent signature line on the application. Our Open Calls and Pageant Prep Workshops come with real expenses; we feel that we give families plenty of time to think about the program before making any financial commitments.
Most of the complaint filed by Mr. ******* is unfortunately factually incorrect. Only about 40% of the girls from the open call session his family attended returned to the pageant prep workshop and only half of those girls actually attended the pageant. We do lay out all of the expenses very clearly. We provide a copy of the rules and regulations 3 separate times as well as they are listed on our website. We call each family, we provide multiple mailings with additional information and walk with them each step of the way as needed. While I appreciate his estimated calculations about the revenue our company generates, he leaves out all of the expenses that come along with running a business.
We have a no refund policy on the sponsor fee's just for this reason here. There are real expenses to producing the open calls, running and office and producing the events on pageant weekend. We feel that by giving them a free informational session and then 4 weeks to read the materials, ask questions, do their research and make a decision before paying any money is more than fair.
The money paid by the ******* family remains on their daughters account for their use at any time in the future. They do not lose the money, it is just not refundable.
Please call or e-mail anytime with questions. Thank you.
National American Miss
Final Consumer Response
I just noticed that just as the letter identifying my daughter as a State finalist was addressed to my daughter and not to my wife, so too does the Payment form contain my daughter's name but not my wife's signature. Consequently, when my wife paid the $240, she was not asked to sign an acknowledgement that the money she paid was non-refundable. Again, one cannot ASSUME that this was understood based on a presentation given one month earlier or in information my wife was asked to complete the previous month when she had no idea that our daughter might - just might - be a finalist.
Final Business Response
Parents signature is clearly visible on the application that was filled out at the Open Call directly above the rules and regulations that explain the refund policy. This policy is explained to the group as well during the presentation because not everyone takes the time to read the details.
A copy of this signed was provided to the BBB along with my initial response to the complaint; I am happy to provide another copy to the BBB and to Mr. ******* if necessary.
National American Miss