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'It was soul crushing': Tim Hortons customers frustrated after false boat win

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Tim Hortons is facing backlash after hundreds of Canadians thought they won a $60,000 boat in the Roll Up To Win contest only to find out it was a “technical error."

Sandra O’Connell from Waterloo said she couldn’t contain her excitement Wednesday morning when she got an email from Tim Hortons saying she won big.

“I called my mom, I phoned my husband, my kids and friends and I thought, ‘I won a boat, I won a boat,’” she told CTV News.

Hours later she got another email from the company saying she didn’t actually win.

“Disappointed, very frustrated and embarrassed because you tell all these people and you're so happy and it's not true,” she said.

Sandra O’Connell from Waterloo shows the email she received Wednesday morning claiming she won a boat through Tim Hortons Roll Up To Win promotion. (Heather Senoran/CTV News)

It also happened to James Murphy from Cambridge. He said it was emotionally exhausting. He first thought he won while at work.

“Everybody at work was excited. Everybody was just losing their mind about it,” Murphy said.

Murphy’s coworkers took a video, recording his reaction after thinking he won. When he found out he didn’t, it was devastating.

“Just from the range of emotion from being up here to down here within an hour. It was soul crushing,” said Murphy.

James Murphy stands outside a Tim Hortons in Kitchener. (Heather Senoran/CTV News)

Technical error

CTV News reached out to Tim Hortons. Officials confirmed the mix-up and sent CTV the letter the company sent to customers. The letter asks customers to disregard the content of the winning email.

“Unfortunately, some prizes that you did not win may have been included in the recap email you received,” the letter from Tim Hortons read, in part.

The company also apologized for the frustration this has caused.

Not the first time

In March 2023, a similar situation happened. Some customers thought they won $10,000 from the Roll Up To Win contest before realizing it was a glitch.

At the time, customers impacted were sent a $50 gift card as compensation.

In this year’s incident, customers have not yet received any notification about compensation.

Legal action

Bernard Wall, who works in Elmira, is part of a Facebook group dedicated to this year’s Tim Hortons glitch. He said people in the group are considering taking legal action and he is prepared to join them.

“They can’t just say it's a system glitch, blame it on the system glitch and run away with it and get no consequences for it. And we medium class to lower class people have to just eat it,” Wall said.

When Wall thought he won, he was already planning what he was going to do with the prize. He planned to get the cash equivalent of the prize.

“I was going to buy a car for my wife,” he said. “I thought my prayers had been answered.”

Wall said Tim Hortons should have learned from their mistakes.

Tim Hortons customer, Bernard Wall, stands outside of a Waterloo location. (Heather Senoran/CTV News)

Statistics professor reacts

Michael Wallace is a statistics professor at the University of Waterloo. He knows all about the Roll Up To Win contest, after he played and won hundreds of times.

Wallace said this year’s incident is different from last year’s as last time it was on the app but this time the notification of winning was part of a recap email at the end of the contest.

“If you had won one of these prizes, you would have been notified at the time you actually won it rather than retrospectively,” Wallace said.

He warns customers that if it sounds too good to be true – it usually is and noted that only one boat was up to win. So finding out hundreds won it was a key sign that it wasn’t the real deal.

“So with these bigger prizes, you always want to be looking for that fine print, that small print that indicates you may need to wait for a little bit more confirmation so don't start celebrating quite yet,” said Wallace.

Tim Horton’s officials did not respond to CTV News when asked how many people were impacted by this technical error.

The Facebook group about the Tim Hortons incident has gained more than 1,200 members from across the country in 24 hours.

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