Is that fabulous, all-expenses-paid trip to Rio a scam? Maybe. If so, in… (Felipe Dana, Associated…)
A sportswriter here at the paper responded to a tweet from basketball star Lamar Odom to enter an online sweepstakes for a free trip to Carnival in Rio de Janeiro.
And guess what? She won.
"I turned it down," my colleague told me. "It was a scam, right?"
It's something I get asked a lot. And usually, there's no question about the scamminess of online sweepstakes. The Federal Trade Commission says it gets thousands of complaints every year about bogus contests and lotteries.
In this case, though, it wasn't such an easy call. If it were a scam, it would be an unusually elaborate ruse involving a South African investment firm, a self-help book, a new social-media network and assorted Kardashians. Yes, those Kardashians.
If it were legit, there's no way I'd go to Rio or anywhere else with these guys.
When my colleague showed me the email she'd received from a company called Jetstream informing her that she'd won the Rio sweepstakes, I concluded the same thing she did: total con job.
The email was dated Jan. 24 and said my colleague needed to respond immediately "to discuss the logistics" of an international trip that would take place just two weeks later.
Not only did that time frame seem dicey, but the person identifying himself as general counsel for Jetstream, Oscar G. Jimenez, was using a Yahoo email address, not a Jetstream or law firm account. This was par for the course for online scams.
And if you Googled "Oscar G. Jimenez," you would get a LinkedIn page that identifies him as a lawyer for a Bay Area firm, which, if you called it, would inform you that Jimenez hadn't worked there for two years.
Yet when I reached Jimenez on a phone number he had provided my colleague, he was surprisingly candid about the questionable appearance of the sweepstakes.
"If I saw something like this in my email, I'd think it was a scam," he said. "There are a lot of scams out there."
Jetstream's website doesn't help. It makes no mention of the sweepstakes. Instead, it makes cryptic reference to the company having "architected, through the use of a multiplatform ecosystem, an experience which awakens the intellectual maverick in you."
The site says Jetstream will soon unveil a social network that offers "a culture of Live, Love, Smile, Jump and Intellectual Sophistication."
"I can't tell you what that means," Jimenez admitted. "I'm scratching my head just like you."
Turns out he's not a full-time Jetstream employee. Jimenez said he works out of his house in San Ramon and hasn't yet updated his LinkedIn page. "That's completely my fault," he said.
Jimenez said that one of his clients is Quantum Capital Fund, a South African investment firm that announced a year ago it was investing $200 million in the United States, including $30 million to create Jetstream.
I traded emails with Abhir Dayaram, the chief executive of Quantum in South Africa. He said Jetstream centers on a book written by Quantum founder Julian Pencilliah, who is described on his own website as being "engaged in the subjects of the wisdom of the ancient gurus and high seers."
Dayaram shared a chapter from Pencilliah's book titled "Rio Carnival: Undress Your Beliefs." It describes a wisdom-provoking encounter involving women with "goddess-like bodies" and pounding drums and people cheering.
"Fully immersed in the moment, we unleash the passion within us, redefining ourselves, elevating our beings and becoming one with the dance," Pencilliah writes. "Beyond rational thinking, we are driven with a passionate desire to dance with spontaneity as the experience unfolds."
Dayaram said the sweepstakes was intended to tie in with this chapter of the book. He said a camera crew was standing by to capture the excitement of the contest winner at Carnival.
"We anticipate establishing a substantial community around the book to move into our Phase 2, which is the launch of Jetstream Social Mobile App that we have been developing over the past 12 months," Dayaram said.
Unfortunately, Jetstream was having difficulty getting anyone to accept its prize. Jimenez said that after my colleague said no, the Rio trip was offered to someone else, who also declined.
"It's harder than I thought to give away something for free," Jimenez said.
A winner was finally announced on Jetstream's Facebook page this week.
As for the participation of Odom and his wife, Khloe Kardashian, and assorted Kardashian siblings in promoting Jetstream's sweepstakes on Twitter, Jimenez said a PR company called Adly was hired to enlist the family's social-media skills.
He said "tens of thousands of dollars" was paid by Jetstream for the tweets.
A spokeswoman for the Kardashians referred all inquiries to Adly. The PR company has no phone number listed on its website, and no one returned my emails.
Is it a scam? If so, these guys are jumping through some serious hoops to convince people that the sweepstakes is real.
Did my colleague screw up royally by not accepting the Rio trip? Not in my opinion.
Jetstream made its sweepstakes look like a racket, and the deeper I dug into things, the more uncomfortable I got with who these folks are and what their intentions may be.
Would I want to travel to another country with them and help promote their various endeavors? Not a chance.
In his book, Pencilliah describes Jetstream as "an oscillating transparency revealing you to yourself, bringing about monumental change and awakening your greatest instinct to progress exponentially through multidimensional time frames."
Even a trip to Rio isn't worth that.
David Lazarus' column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5 and followed on Twitter @Davidlaz. Send your tips or feedback to email@example.com.