You should never have to pay to win a sweepstakes. Legitimate sweepstakes will state in their literature that no purchase is necessary to win, but scams still persist. Sometimes a sweepstakes doesn’t even have to be a scam yet people will buy merchandise simply because of the confusing nature of some of them. For instance, Publisher’s Clearinghouse is known for offering magazines and other merchandise to customers for sale usually via a monthly payment plan along with an entry. It’s usually stated in their literature and sometimes right on the envelopes that no purchase is necessary though that sentence can be overpowered by the rest of the message often appearing in big block letters.
I know I’m not the only one who has had to explain to an elderly relative that the words “You Won!” don’t necessarily mean they’ve won. Often, these same words will be accompanied by phrases such as “Time is Running Out.” This is an obvious oxymoron and giveaway that you haven’t won anything yet.
One big red flag when entering sweepstakes is if the company in question says that you’ve won but they need your credit card info in order to claim your prize. This should never be necessary. Any taxes on the prize you win will be payable to federal and state agencies not the company that offered the prize. Even in-store sweepstakes where you receive an entry for every purchase will have information on how to send in a free entry either online or by mail.
The internet has brought this kind of scam to a new level. Have you seen pop-up ads that look like a contest telling you something like “Congratulations, you’re our 10,000th visitor and you’ve won!”? By clicking on this, you may be taken to another site that offers the same sort of offers mentioned above. This is also a doorway that could allow viruses or other malware to be installed on your computer.
Raffles and other forms of charitable gaming are exceptions. But the organizations that hold these events still have to follow the rules set forth by the attorney general’s office of their states or by similar agencies of the respective governments in contests run outside the US. They have to apply and qualify for a charitable gaming license. Like sweepstakes, raffles are also used to lure unsuspecting entrants to giving cash. But this is worse because it plays on the heartstrings by giving the promise of supporting a cause. It’s best to only enter raffles you trust.
If you’re unsure of the legitimacy of a raffle, bingo or other charity game, then ask the organization about their licensing. If the company hems and haws about giving info, that’s a good sign they aren’t being honest with you. You can also call your state’s attorney general’s office or charitable gaming division to confirm their licensing or to report if you’ve been a victim of a scam.
Entering contests and sweepstakes is a fun hobby that can be lucrative. Just use common sense and trust your instincts and you’ll continue to enjoy it.