Buffett bracket billion just a Quicken Loans trick. You aren’t winning; don’t cough up your personal info

by Bob Sullivan on March 4, 2014

Don't visit this site (FantasySports.Yahoo.com)

Don’t visit this site (FantasySports.Yahoo.com)

Yea!!! Warren Buffett has offered $1 billion for the sports fan equivalent of getting hit by lightning, an asteroid, and a Robinson Cano home run at the same time. But whoops: Everyone who falls for his trick is going to get pestered to take out a new loan until the day they die.

Sorry to be a party-pooper, but no, Buffett’s empty offer of a $1 billion prize isn’t all in good fun. It’s really good business for him, for Quicken Loans, and it’s probably a really bad idea for you to cooperate.

Here’s the deal.  Mortgage firms spend a lot of money on mortgage leads – it was $10 each just for a live email address the last time I looked.  So Buffett and Quicken Loan have hatched a diabolically brilliant idea.  Together with Yahoo, the firm will get 15 million suckers to offer up their address, their email address, and the mortgage loan needs (!) for a very tiny shot at one of 20 $100,000 prizes.   That’s barely the cost of one Super Bowl ad, if you are paying attention, or more to the point, just a tick more than 10 cents per email.

Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway is providing the insurance for the $1 billion bet.  Given the minuscule odds of winning, it’s a great bet. More important, he’s providing his name and brand to the contest to attract attention.

Brilliant, eh? You don’t become a billionaire for no reason.

Yes, yes, folks who enter supposedly have a shot at a billion of Buffett’s dollars, but really they don’t.  Only the very, very  math deficient would even call it a shot. Please, plan your future on winning Powerball instead.  The odds of winning are “1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808.” At least, that’s what the game’s rules say, though your expert knowledge of college basketball might improve those odds to, say, 2:9,223,372,036,854,775,808.  (Sorry, I didn’t feel like dividing by 2).  This should go without saying, but no ESPN user has ever produced a perfect bracket in its contest’s 16 years.

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A long-time Red Tape reader who pored over the rules was pretty disappointed.

“I wanted to believe the whole idea stemmed from a humanistic -altruistic place in the heart of a wise businessman offering a fun way to participate in a national sporting event during a time of financial stress and shifting for many,” she wrote to me. “After reading the lengthy rules, it now appears to me that Buffett may have come up with a way to generate 15 million qualified home mortgage leads … Buffett wins no matter what.

Perhaps you think Quicken loans would never abuse the information it collects.  If you decide to trust the firm, good luck to you.  But I can say with surety that it doesn’t have a perfect track record when handling emails.  Ten years ago, in a story titled “Who Profits From Spam? You’ll be Surprised!” I ran an experiment at MSNBC.com and “fell for” a spam email about mortgages to see what happened. I used techniques that allowed me to trace the address I entered.

Guess what happened? Within four days, Quicken Loans emailed me trying to sell me a mortgage!

Don’t fall for the same trick I did 10 years ago.  You aren’t winning $1 billion. Don’t enter your email address and tell Quicken about your mortgage loan needs.

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This story has been corrected to remove language stating Warren Buffett had an ownership stake in Quicken Loans.  

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