As a general rule, any solicitation through the mail, by telephone, or electronically (email or text message) that requires the purchase of any product, or the payment of any fee as a condition to entering or winning a sweepstakes is illegal.
Some sweepstakes are used as a marketing tool to sell products or to solicit donations, where the promoters offer chances to win prizes. Sweepstakes promoters hope to grab consumers' attention with the possibility of large prizes in order to convince consumers to purchase merchandise or magazines.
Other sweepstakes – as well as foreign lotteries – are complete scams. No prizes are ever awarded and the solicitations are designed to steal either your money or your identity, or both. These solicitations often use names similar to well-known sweepstakes and typically require the payment of some kind of fee in order to “claim” a prize.
Here are some signs that you are being solicited by a phony sweepstakes or foreign lottery:
- The call, letter, or electronic message comes from a sweepstakes or lottery you don’t remember entering;
- The so-called “prize notice” contains vague and confusing terms, or bad grammar, that leaves you confused whether you have actually won a prize or are just being asked to enter into the sweepstakes or lottery;
- You are required to submit some form of payment in order to claim a prize or award – it might be as little as $20 as an “entry fee” or “judges fee” or thousands of dollars for taxes or insurance;
- The notice creates a sense of urgency imploring you to “act immediately” or using terms like “final notice” or “last chance to claim your prize”;
- You are required to make an immediate payment using a wire transfer or pre-paid money card; or
- You are required to provide personal identifying information, such as your social security number, birthdate, or bank account information.
Here are some important tips regarding sweepstakes and contests:
- It is ILLEGAL to sell tickets or promote a foreign lottery in the United States so anyone claiming that you have won such a lottery is breaking the law;
- Legitimate sweepstakes promoters provide clear and understandable terms and conditions about entering a sweepstakes and provide accurate information about your odds of winning;
- Legitimate sweepstakes promotions do not notify you of a prize by bulk mail, email, or an unsolicited telephone call;
- No legitimate sweepstakes requires you to purchase a product or pay any kind of fee or cost in order to enter or claim a prize;
- Purchasing products or making a charitable donation NEVER improves your chances of winning a sweepstakes.
- Sweepstakes promoters, just like other direct mail companies, have the ability to automatically insert your name into their sweepstakes messages, so EVERY recipient can receive what appears to be a personalized greeting;
- The winner of a sweepstakes must be chosen entirely by chance or at random. The sweepstakes promoter has no idea who will win before the winner is actually picked. Don't be fooled by suggestions that you have a better chance of winning because of membership in a select group or because you supposedly share characteristics with past winners;
- Your chances of winning a big prize in sweepstakes are very small, often only 1 in 50,000,000! Don't be fooled into believing that you're likely to win or that you're very close to winning a big prize. You probably will win nothing;
- Sweepstakes promoters often send documents that resemble a check, money order, or wire transfer instructions. Oftentimes, these checks will have your name on them. These are NOT REAL and are mailed to EVERYONE! Do not be fooled into believing that you are receiving actual money or a special mailing; and
Consumers have no obligation to read or respond to a sweepstakes mailing. Feel free to toss it in the garbage, hang up the telephone, or delete the email or text message. Furthermore, if you don't wish to receive future mailings, you can ask the sweepstakes promoter to STOP SENDING sweepstakes mailings to you, and, if you do so, the sweepstakes promoter must comply with your request.
If you believe you have been a victim of a sweepstakes scam or if you wish to report suspicious activity, please file a report here.