By Kurtis Ming

The Taco Bell ad said there was a winner every 15 minutes, but dozens of would-be winners across the country said they’ve been cheated.

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“Enter the code and see if you’re an instant winner,” the ad tells viewers, saying those who enter could win the new PlayStation Vita instantly.

Gamer William Schroeder of Lodi was one of the many who thought he was a winner.

The Taco Bell website told him “Congratulations, you won. … No really, we’re not kidding,” he said, a message consistent with what other would-be winners reported.

“I was excited, I’ve never won anything like that,” he said.

But two weeks later, he got an email claiming he was “not a valid winner,” but without any explanation, he said.

“It’s ridiculous,” he said, shaking his head.

CBS13 has been in contact with dozens of people from across the country since Feb. 14 who insist they too won PS Vitas — only to later get the same rejection email.

“It’s absolutely foul what they’re doing to me and the rest of these people who are getting screwed,” Schroeder said.

Taco Bell told CBS13 someone tampered with their contest — creating too many winners — and said those who followed the rules may not get their prizes.

Asked if these ‘legitimate winners” are guaranteed prizes, a Taco Bell representative said, “They are not.”

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“They will get a second chance [in a new drawing Taco Bell will create],” the company spokesperson added.

The company said the second-chance drawing for these specific participants, about 300 in number, they said, will take place the week of March 18. At least two PS Vitas will be given away in that drawing, said the spokesperson.

If customers followed the rules and won, consumer attorney Eric Ratinoff said the company has a responsibility to deliver the prize in accordance with their terms of the contest, which he read.

Those terms say “in the unlikely event” there are too many winners, Taco Bell will have a drawing to distribute the PS Vitas.

Ratinoff said that solution is still unfair to those who followed the rules.

“If Taco Bell had a problem with the way they ran their own sweepstakes, that should be their own problem,” he said.

Realizing he may not get his prize, William said he was infuriated.

“All I did was go through their drive-thru, buy their $5 box, play the game honestly,” he said.

The Taco Bell contest, which runs through March 11, is being handled by marketing group Ventura Associates, which never responded to messages left by CBS13.

Taco Bell said it plans to send apology emails to explain the situation.

UPDATE: Taco Bell has announced the second-chance drawing will be held March 21.

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Full statement issued 2/21/12: “We have learned that during a short period of time on January 30th, some people entering our Unlock the Box promotion erroneously received a message suggesting they had won a PlayStation® Vita, pending verification. After a thorough investigation, and an additional review by the independent company administering the promotion, it was confirmed that these entrants viewed these messages as a result of others who attempted to gain illegal entry and defraud the system. Unfortunately, during this time period some saw a confirmation screen but were not valid winners. Taco Bell designed this sweepstakes to be fun for our consumers and we know that there are some disappointed fans. We are therefore giving those consumers who viewed erroneous messages a second chance to win by automatically entering them into a separate drawing to win a PS Vita.  All winners will be notified and their names posted the week after the end of the promotion. The issue that occurred on January 30th has been resolved and the Unlock the Box promotion will continue to run through March 11, 2012.”