When you receive the “good news” that you’ve won, you might be tempted to respond right away and send your personal information or anything else that the sponsor wants to release your prize. But wait! Are you sure that notification is legit? Read these tips and warnings first. By being informed you can verify that you have won a legitimate giveaway and are not being scammed.
Don’t Be SCAMMED!
Learn How To Spot Prize Scams
- No Clear Set of Rules – You should run from sweepstakes that have no rules whatsoever – they are more interested in getting your information than in running a fair contest.
- Want You to Pay to Receive the Prize – Legitimate sweepstakes will never ask you to pay fees to participate or to receive a prize. You should never have to pay handling charges, service fees, or any other kind of charges up front to receive anything you’ve won. Note: Except for rare exceptions such as paying for port fees or hotel taxes, sweepstakes taxes are paid directly to the IRS. Anyone who asks you to pay taxes on prizes directly to them is running a scam.
- You Don’t Remember Entering Contest – You can only win sweepstakes that you enter. If you receive a win notification from a giveaway that you don’t remember entering, it’s a red flag. Maybe you did enter and just don’t remember. Organizing your sweepstakes entries in folders by end date is a good way to keep track. Another way of verifying that your prize win is legitimate is to look up the telephone number for the sponsor and call them to verify your winnings.
- Don’t Know Your Name or Other Info – When have you ever entered and not been asked for at least your first name? Many scammers send fake notifications by mail or email to every address they can get their hands on. If your win notice has a generic salutation like “Congrats Winner” or “Dear Sir or Madam” it’s a good indication that you’re dealing with a scam.
- Ask You to Wire Money or Send a MoneyPak – Criminals love to use services like Western Union because it is nearly impossible to trace who received the money. A new twist on this type of scam is to ask their victims to buy a MoneyPak from retailers like Walmart and CVS. These cards let you transfer money by simply reading out their numbers. Once you’ve done either one, there’s little to no chance of getting your money back.
- You Receive a Large Check with Your Win Notice – To fool you into thinking that a sweepstake is legitimate, scammers will send counterfeit checks along with the win notifications. Note: Cashing a fraudulent check is a crime and in addition to losing any money you wire, you could be liable for fines and fees. A legitimate sweepstake will require an affidavit before sending out any prize valued at more than $600.
- Scam Notifications Arrive by Bulk Mail – Legitimate sponsors send out win notifications by first class mail or by carriers such as FedEx or UPS. However, Scam artists want to send to the largest number of people for the least amount of cost. They do this by using bulk mail.
- Prize Administered by a Government Organization – Real sweepstakes sponsors and giveaway hosts send their win notifications directly to the winners. Sweepstake scammers pretend to be from government organizations such as the “National Sweepstakes Board” (no such thing) or FTC to appear more legit. Government organizations are NOT involved in awarding sweepstakes prizes. Also, federal marshals do NOT hand out prizes.
- Contact You Using a Free E-mail Account – It’s possible that some smaller, legitimate sweepstakes sponsors could notify you with a free email address. But if you receive a win notice claiming to be from a big company from a free account like Hotmail, Yahoo, or Gmail, you can be sure that it is a sweepstakes scam.
- Winning Message Contains Many Typos – Anyone can make a minor mistake when typing out a win notification. Since many sweepstakes scams originate outside of the United States and Canada, watch for errors in spelling, grammar, or punctuation. Finding that there are several, should set off a red flag.
- Pressure You to Act in a Hurry – Sweepstakes scammers want to receive their money before their check bounces or you discover that you are being defrauded. If you feel like you are being pressured to make a decision before you have the time to ensure that the win is legitimate, you should be very suspicious. Note: A sponsor might need a quick answer if the prize is for an event happening soon. However, if there is no good reason for a rush to accept a prize, then it’s probably a sweepstakes scam.
- Ask for Bank or Credit Card Info to Receive Your Prize – You should never hand over this information. It is a huge red flag that you are dealing with a sweepstakes scam. The only sensitive information that a legitimate sweepstake sponsor needs is a social security number. Note: By law, sweepstakes sponsors are required to report prizes awarded to U.S. residents to the IRS if the value is $600 or more. For tax purposes, some sponsors may also choose report prizes of lower values. Just make sure that you are a legitimate winner before you send in your social security number.
- Your “Win” is From a Lottery – It is impossible to win a lottery without buying a ticket. Plus, the lottery will not contact you to tell you that you won. If your win notification says you’ve won a lottery, you can bet your last dollar that it’s a scam. Also, it’s illegal to sell tickets for foreign lotteries across international borders. So unless you were actually in a foreign country and buy a lottery ticket, you can’t win. Note: There is NO such thing as a “free” lottery. All lotteries must charge in order to have money to give away.
- Too Good To Be True Rule – Remember the saying “If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.” If you feel like something is a little off, be careful and check it out before proceeding. Names used by scammers often belong to real people and businesses who often have no knowledge of nor connection to the scammer’s use of their name and information. Check the Names of Known Fake Lotteries, Sweepstakes, and Promotions.
- Your Due Diligence Is Not Enough – You’ve followed all the tips and done everything you could to avoid being scammed, but still got taken advantage of by one. Think you’ve been scammed? Don’t let them get away with it! Learn How To Report Them And File a Complaint Reporting scammers to the authorities is your first step toward shutting them down.