Update by user Dec 08, 2013
One month after posting the warning about NAM in which we claimed a monetary loss of $240, my wife discovered something that the Credit Card Company and the BBB said we would need to prove that we were ripped off: i,e, a receipt. Up until now, we did not know if the receipt my wife received when she paid the $240 made note of NAM's claim that the money was non-refundable.
Well, guess what? The receipt makes no mention of it being non-refundable. This is why NAM refused to send us a copy when the Credit Card Company and the Better Business Bureau asked us to provide them with a copy of this document.
Up until now, it was their word against our word. Well, not it is eminently clear that they ripped us off and that we have every right to be "pissed customers."
Original review posted by user Nov 04, 2013
NATIONAL AMERICAN MISS: PARENTS & SPONSORS BE INFORMED!
In March of 2013 our family received an invitation in the mail from National American Miss (NAM) to enter our daughter, Sasha, into the NAM South State Pageant. My wife and daughter, Sasha, attended an Open Call session at the Sheraton Mission Valley in San Diego on April 24, 2013 during which Sasha was photographed and interviewed by NAM representatives.
When Sasha returned from the Open Call, she said "Daddy, I entered the National American Miss contest so that I can win you a Ford Mustang convertible!" In addition to displaying a Ford Mustang on the cover of their promotional magazine, NAM also produced an advertisement that could lead one to believe that women like Diane Sawyer, Halle Berry, Oprah Winfrey, etc. were former contestants in the NAM Pageant.
In May, the month after the Open Call, Sasha 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 300 girls between the ages of 4 and 20 at the Open Call the previous month, we got the impression that Sasha was one of a few girls who was chosen as a "State Finalist" within her age category. When my wife went with Sasha to the "Pageant Prep Training Session" on May 28, 2013 at the Sheraton Mission Valley, my wife was told that she had to pay $240 in order for Sasha to continue in the competition, and another $240 prior to the Pageant weekend scheduled for June 27-30, 2013. Not wanting to disappoint Sasha 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, I then read very carefully the materials my wife and daughter were given. When I read the 20 page NAM brochure to determine how much this undertaking might cost our family (particularly after reading comments online about it being a "money grab"), I 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!"
After careful research, I reached a number of conclusions:
1) Even though NAM advertises in their literature and news releases that "National American Miss…each year…awards…a New Ford Mustang!", Sasha could not win her daddy a Ford Mustang because there are six age categories in the competition and the one Mustang is only awarded to the winner of the "Miss" category (ages 19-20).2) While the various NAM fees amount to an investment of a little over $500, there are other costs associated with participation in a NAM pageant that are not involved in other pageants. For example, participants and their families are expected to pay for hotel lodging and food costs at the state and national pageants. Even if Sasha were not to go on to the national competition, our housing and food costs for a three day stay at a Hilton Hotel would come to another $500. Consequently, participation in the pageant is a minimum investment of $1000. 3) When Sasha was informed that she was a "State Finalist," we had no idea how many other state finalists in her age category she would be competing against. 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 at the Hilton Costa Mesa from 27 to 29 June, 2013, it was only then they discovered there were no fewer than 63 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 state winners.4) The successful women who were pictured in a NAM flyer (e.g., Diane Sawyer, Halle Berry, Oprah Winfrey, etc.) were not former contestants in a NAM Pageant. While these women participated in pageants, none of them ever participated in a NAM pageant. Also, the pageants they participated in did not require them to pay for their hotel and food expenses during their various stages of the competition.
After completing my research, my wife and I decided that Sasha would not be competing in the NAM Pageant. When we contacted the NAM office and requested that our $240 be refunded, we were told that this fee was non-refundable. When we contacted our credit card company to contest this payment, asserting that we paid for services that were never rendered or used, we were told we needed to provide a copy of the contract that my wife signed when she paid the $240 fee. When we contacted NAM again and requested a copy of the signed agreement, we were never contacted by their account department as we were told would happen. With out such documentation, we could not prove to the credit card company that my wife was duly informed that the $240 she paid was non-refundable.
I am sending a copy of my research to the Better Business Bureau with the request that they assist in having our money refunded, as well as to the Official National Prize Sponsors (Ford Motor Company, John Robert Powers School System, Dance Spirit Magazine, and American Cheerleader Magazine) 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 associated with the NAM pageant may be (e.g., fees in excess of $500, 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 the grand prize of a Ford Mustang is not an achievable prize for most pageant 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 in our interaction with National American Miss that recently moved their offices from Elmer, NJ to Franklin, TN.
Monetary Loss: $240.
Location: San Diego, California