Be sure to read the fine print. We've all heard it, but how many people do it?
At least one, it turns out, and it just netted her an easy $10,000.
Last month, St. Petersburg-based company Squaremouth began hiding the instructions for claiming the prize in the policy document for every Tin Leg travel insurance policy it sold.
The company planned to run the contest for an entire year, thinking it unlikely that anyone would notice the section titled "pays to read" sandwiched between legal terms on page seven of the nearly 4,000-word document. If it went unnoticed, the plan was to donate the $10,000 to charity at the end of the year.
But they didn't count on high school teacher Donelan Andrews, 59. The self-described unapologetic "nerd" who said she always reads the terms, whether it's a digital software user agreement like the ones most of us breeze by before ticking the box, or a travel insurance policy, like the one she purchased for $400 through Squaremouth the same day the contest began.
Andrews printed out her policy, stapled it together and sat down to read it right away. Soon she came across a section that said, "In an effort to highlight the importance of reviewing policy documents, we launched Pays to Read, a contest that rewards the individual who reads their policy information from start to finish. If you are reading this within the contest period ... and are the first to contact us, you may be awarded the Pays to Read contest Grand Prize of ten thousand dollars."
The policy then listed an email address to contact to claim the prize, which Andrews wrote to right away. She got a call back the next day to let her know she'd won the $10,000. The contest was over 23 hours into its yearlong run.
"The main reason I always do it is that I went to the University of Georgia and I majored in consumer economics," she said. "So it's always been a passion of mine to be consumer aware, and particularly, not to be taken advantage of. I even read that HIPAA document they give you at the doctor's office."
When writing tests for her students, she used to hide a bonus in the instructions to see if they'd read the whole thing — circle question number five three times and get 10 extra points, for example.
"So," she said, "I have to practice what I preach."
Squaremouth spokesperson Jenna Hummer said the contest was an idea the company's CEO had several years ago, though it took some time to execute it. Because a leak could have allowed anyone to buy an inexpensive policy and claim the prize, only six people in the company, all sworn to secrecy, knew about it.
Hummer said the company estimates only about 1 percent of its customers read their policies. Squaremouth sold about 73 policies with the hidden instructions to claim the prize before Andrews came forward.
Andrews, who is soon to retire, said she plans to use the prize money to fund a trip to Scotland for her 35th wedding anniversary. In honor of her quick claiming of the prize, Squaremouth donated an additional $5,000 to each of the two high schools where Andrews works to improve their media centers, and $10,000 to children's literacy charity Reading is Fundamental.
Contact Christopher Spata at email@example.com or @spatatimes on Twitter.