How to avoid
Sweepstakes and Prize Scams - How to
Consumer Protection from Sweepstakes Scams
Several consumer laws help protect consumers against fraudulent sweepstakes and
prize offers promoted through the mail or by phone.
Telemarketers frequently use sweepstakes and prize contests to sell magazines or
other goods and services. These telemarketers make an initial contact with
consumers through "cold calls," or take calls from consumers who are responding
to a solicitation they received by mail.
The U.S. Telemarketing Sales Rule helps protect consumers from
fraudulent telemarketers who use prize promotions as a lure. In every
telemarketing call involving a prize promotion, the law requires telemarketers
to tell you:
- the odds of winning a prize. If the odds can't be
determined in advance, the promoter must tell you the factors used to
calculate the odds.
- that you don't have to pay a fee or buy something to
win a prize or participate in the promotion.
- if you ask, how to participate in the contest without
buying or paying anything.
- what you'll have to pay or the conditions you'll have
to meet to receive or redeem a prize.
The Telemarketing Sales Rule prohibits telemarketers from
misrepresenting any of these facts, as well as the nature or value of the
prizes. It also requires telemarketers who call you to pitch a prize promotion
to tell you before they describe the prize that you don't have to buy
or pay anything to enter or win.
Many sweepstakes promotions arrive by mail as a letter or postcard that
instructs the consumer to respond by return mail or phone to enter a contest or
collect a prize.
The U.S. Deceptive Mail Prevention and Enforcement Act helps
protect consumers against fraudulent sweepstakes promotions sent through the
mail. The law prohibits:
- claims that you're a winner unless you've actually won
a prize (with no other obligations or fees).
- requirements that you buy something to enter the
contest or to receive future sweepstakes mailings.
- the mailing of fake checks that don't clearly state
that they are non-negotiable and have no cash value.
- seals, names or terms that imply an affiliation with
or endorsement by the federal government.
Skill contests also are covered by the new Deceptive Mail Prevention and
Enforcement Act. The law requires the sponsors to disclose in a clear and
- the terms, rules and conditions of the contest.
- how many rounds of the contest you must achieve to win
the grand prize.
- the time frame for the winner to be determined.
- the name of the contest's sponsor.
- an address where you can reach the sponsor to request
that your name be removed from the mailing list.
Just Say "No"
Another way to protect yourself is to request that your name be removed from
mail and telephone solicitation lists.
The Telemarketing Sales Rule requires telemarketers to keep
a "do not call" list of consumers who have asked not to be called again. Calling
a consumer who has made this request is illegal and can subject the telemarketer
to a hefty fine.
The Deceptive Mail Prevention and Enforcement Act requires
companies that use direct mail to maintain a similar "do not mail" list for
consumers who call or write and ask that their name be removed from the mailing
This new law gives caregivers the right to have the names of
the friends and loved ones under their care removed from the mailing lists of
Another way to reduce mail and telephone solicitations is to
contact the Direct Marketing Association to request that your name be placed on
its "do not call," "do not mail" and "do not email" lists. Association members
agree not to solicit consumers who have requested that they not be contacted.
To have your name removed from direct mail marketing lists,
write: Direct Marketing Association, Preference Service Manager, 1120 Avenue of
the Americas, New York, New York 10036-6700. To have your name removed from
telemarketing lists, write: Direct Marketing Association, Preference Service
Manager, 1120 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York 10036-6700. To "opt
out" of receiving unsolicited commercial email, use the DMA's form at
Tips and Warning Signs for Sweepstakes Scams
The next time you get a "personal" letter or telephone call
telling you "it's your lucky day," remember:
- Never pay: Legitimate
sweepstakes don't require you to pay or buy something to enter
or improve your chances of winning, or to pay "taxes"
"shipping and handling charges" to get your prize. If you have
to pay to receive your "prize," it's not a prize at all.
- Visibility: Sponsors of
legitimate contests identify themselves prominently; fraudulent
promoters are more likely to downplay their identities.
Legitimate promoters also provide you with an address or
toll-free phone numbers so you can ask that your name be removed
from their mailing list.
- Terms: Bona fide
offers clearly disclose the terms and conditions of the
promotion in plain English, including rules, entry procedures,
and usually, the odds of winning.
- Mass winners; It's highly
unlikely that you've won a "big" prize if your notification was
mailed by bulk rate and never in any email. Check the postmark on the envelope or
postcard. Also be suspicious of telemarketers who say you've won
a contest you can't remember entering.
- Money grams: Fraudulent
promoters might instruct you to send a Western Union, Money Gram or money order by
overnight delivery or courier to enter a contest or claim your
"prize." This is a favorite ploy for con artists because it lets
them take your money fast, before you realize you've been
Scammers pressure people to wire money
through commercial money transfer companies like Western Union because wiring money
is the same as sending cash. If you discover you've been scammed, the money's gone, and
there's very little chance of recovery. Likewise, resist any push to send a check or money
order by overnight delivery or courier. Con artists recommend these services so they can get
to your money before you realize you've been cheated.
- Fake names: Disreputable companies sometimes use a
variation of an official or nationally recognized name to give
you confidence in their offers. Don't be deceived by these
"look-alikes." It's illegal for a promoter to misrepresent an
affiliation with >- or an endorsement by - a government agency
or other well-known organization. Disreputable companies sometimes use a variation of an official
or nationally recognized name to try to confuse you and give you confidence in their offers.
Insurance companies, including Lloyd's, do not insure delivery of sweepstakes winnings.
- Fine print: It's
important to read any written solicitation you receive
carefully. Pay particularly close attention to the fine print.
Remember the old adage that "the devil is in the details."
- Sales pitch: Agreeing to
attend a sales meeting just to win an "expensive" prize is
likely to subject you to a high-pressure sales pitch.
- Sign up for spam: Signing up
for a sweepstakes at a public location or event, through a
publication or online might subject you to unscrupulous prize
promotion tactics. You also might run the risk of having your
personal information sold or shared with other marketers who
later deluge you with offers and advertising.
- 800 / 900 Number: Some contest
promoters use a toll-free "800" number that directs you to dial
a pay-per-call "900" number. Charges for calls to "900" numbers
may be very high.
- Phone numbers can deceive.
Some con artists use Internet technology
to call you. It allows them to disguise their area code: although it may look
like they're calling from Washington, DC or your local area, they could be calling from anywhere in
- No credit card / bank or other numbers! Disclosing
your checking account or credit card account number over the
phone in response to a sweepstakes promotion
- or for any reason other than to
buy the product or service being sold -
is a sure-fire way to get scammed in the future.
- BBB: Your local
Better Business Bureau and your
state or local consumer protection office can help you check out
a sweepstakes promoter's reputation. Be aware, however, that
many questionable prize promotion companies don't stay in one
place long enough to establish a track record, and the absence
of complaints doesn't necessarily mean the offer is legitimate.
How to report a sweepstake scam
Click here for page 3; to find
out how to report a sweepstake scam
Names of Scam / Fake / Fraud Lottery
Click here for the huge list of the names of the currently identified lottery
and sweepstakes scams companies