How to avoid

Sweepstakes and Prize Scams - How to Protect Yourself


Consumer Protection from Sweepstakes Scams

Several consumer laws help protect consumers against fraudulent sweepstakes and prize offers promoted through the mail or by phone.

Telephone Solicitations

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.

Written Solicitations

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

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 conspicuous way:

  • 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 list.

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 undesirable solicitors.

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 www.e-mps.org.

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:

  1. 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" "insurance" or "shipping and handling charges" to get your prize. If you have to pay to receive your "prize," it's not a prize at all.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 cheated. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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."
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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 the world.
  12. 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.
  13. 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

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