You receive a letter, phone call or email announcing that you have been chosen to win millions of dollars. It must be your lucky day – or is it…
Contests, sweepstakes and prize offerings can be legitimate methods for companies, non-profits and other entities to promote themselves. But they can also be scams. Before you start planning how you will spend your winnings make sure you know the facts.
Never pay to redeem a prize. Some promotions may require you to buy something to win – perhaps a lottery ticket, or candy bar to uncover a golden ticket. However, if a contest, sweepstakes or lottery requires that you purchase an unrelated product to improve your chances of winning, or pay upfront taxes, fees, or shipping charges in order to collect your prize, chances are it is a scam.
Guard your personal info. Never share personal financial information to enter a promotion or to collect a prize. Beware of requests for information about your income, credit card ownership, or bank accounts as a condition of participating. Also know that by entering a contest your contact information may be shared with other companies that will contact you later. Learn more about how to reduce telemarketing calls, and junk mail and spam.
Fake checks. Do not participate in sweepstakes or respond to advertisements that resemble a check, bill or invoice – especially if it was sent through the mail at a bulk shipping rate. Destroy fake sweepstakes or lottery offers by shredding or deleting them.
Know the rules. Legitimate promotions must clearly disclose the terms and conditions in plain English. Depending on the type of promotion, other details must be made known:
- Prize Promotions must disclose the retail price of the prize, the cost to participate including any applicable taxes and the exact amount of any shipping or handling charges.
- Sweepstakes must explain the odds of winning and the rules for entering without making a purchase.
- Contests must describe the total number of rounds in the contest, what entrants are responsible for, the identity of the judges and how they will determine a winner.
Know who the sponsors are. Legitimate promoters will identify themselves prominently (it is, after all, a promotion) and provide contact information so that you can request that your name be removed from their list. Scam artists will often downplay their identity or pose as an entity that doesn’t exist.
Foreign lotteries are illegal. Participating in a foreign lottery is not only illegal, these operations are often closely tied to organized crime. Furthermore, the jurisdiction of most U.S. law enforcement agencies only extends to locations within U.S. borders, so if the perpetrators are outside of the country it is almost impossible to recover any money once it has been sent.
Government agencies do not sponsor mail or email based sweepstakes. If you a receive notification that you have one a government-sponsored sweepstakes, rest assured it is a scam.
If you think you have been victimized in a contest, sweepstakes or prize offer scam, or want to notify us about an individual, company or agency that may be engaging in these types of scams, complete a Consumer Complaint Form or call 1-877-877-9392.
DOJ routinely sends out scam alerts. If you would like to be notified of emerging scams, fraud and other consumer threats as they arise, please join the Oregon Scam Alert Network.
Learn More from the Federal Trade Commission
Applicable State Law: