Sweepstakes and the End of Net Neutrality

You may know the broad basics of the problems and first amendment threats of ending net neutrality.  But what does this decision mean for the hobby of sweepstaking?

  • Sites not favored by the internet provider could see slower speeds. Waiting for you sweepstakes websites to load may become time consuming, cutting down on the total number of sweepstakes you will be able to enter in a day or an hour.
  • In order to get faster speeds, sites may now pay money for that privilege. This could mean that smaller sweepstakes sites, such as low entry sweepstakes and those run by individuals and small companies, will start to disappear.  If only large companies with money can afford to run sweepstakes, your entries will be put in a larger pool, cutting back your odds of winning.
  • For sweepstakes conglomerate websites and blogs to keep up, free sites will likely no longer be free. They could be forced to charge in order to pay the higher rates for faster speeds.  Sweepstakes secret sites for members that already charge a fee, may need to increase fees to keep up. And even after doing this, small sites may still not be able to afford to offer sweepstakes, and smaller sweepstakes sites may disappear.
  • It will now be legal for internet providers to block certain tweets. For instance, if someone criticizes them on Twitter using a hashtag, the provider may block that tweet from ever reaching its intended audience.  This may eventually trickle down to sweepstakes tweets, again allowing tweets for the larger, high-paying companies, and blocking tweets about smaller companies.
  • Maybe one of the scariest parts of ending net neutrality is that Internet companies may now monitor everything you do online and sell that information to advertisers. If you think of how much junk e-mail entering sweepstakes creates, you could now be bombarded with advertisements from companies that bought your demographic information used to enter sweepstakes.

I don’t what to say, except this is a scary time for internet users, whether you are a sweepstaker or not. What are your thoughts?

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Reflecting on Sweepstakes Resolutions

Reflections

Since the end of the year is approaching, I looked back to my January post “Sweeping Resolutions” to see what I have accomplished and what I still have left to get done.  In that post, I had set out four sweepstakes items I wanted to accomplish before the close of 2017.

The first was to schedule monthly meetings of the Boise Sweepstakes Club.  I already had a dedicated Facebook page for the club where I post local and regional sweepstakes.  But I wanted to build a community in my town around sweepstaking where we could meet every month to talk sweeping, support each other, enter sweepstakes together, and make the hobby even more fun and social!  So, in July I started a page on meetup.com for Boise Sweepstakes Club, and in just 3 months we have 15 members.  This does not count all the folks who like and follow Boise Sweepstakes Club on Facebook.

My second resolution was to enter even more sweepstakes.  To help achieve this goal, I decided to attend the National Sweepstakes Convention this year. It was held on a cruise and introduced me to many more resources for sweepstaking.  You can read a bit about the convention and the entire adventure on my other blog here. I am utilizing a lot more online sweepstaking information sites than I was before the convention, which has allowed me to find more sweepstakes to enter.

Next on my resolutions list was to reapply to teach a sweepstaking class through my city’s community education program.  You may remember that the first time I applied to teach the course, my idea was turned down.  However, I am happy to report that I was selected to teach the class earlier this month, and the class, entitled Sweepstaking: Fun & Free, was held October 9. Six people registered for the course, but only three showed up for the class.  I still had a lot of fun teaching it, and my students seemed excited to learn.  I am awaiting feedback, and to hear whether I can teach this course again in the future.

My final sweepstaking resolution for 2017 was to write a memoir centered around my years doing this hobby.  It is the only resolution I have not taken steps toward, so to ensure I would push myself to complete it before the end of the year, I signed up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).  A memoir is not a novel, however, if you write in the nonfiction genre they simply call you a “rebel” but you can still participate via their free website for writing support. The idea of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000 word book in just the 30 days of November.  It is not meant to be a publishable piece at the end of one month.  It is more to encourage you to get a draft down.  You can edit it later after the month is over.  As of right now, I am registered at the NaNoWriMo site with a working title for my memoir, a brief synopsis, and my husband is working on creating a book cover for me.  If I do complete my 50,000 words in 30 days, I’m considered a “winner” – and I love that word!

ANATOMY OF A SCAM LETTER

scam bulldog

Just this past week I received a tricky scam letter telling me “CONGRATULATIONS” because I had won the Sol Pacifico Cerritos “Great Giveaway” Contest.

I looked at all aspects of the notification letter to conclude that this was a scam.  Here are some of the things to look for.

  • Does the sender’s e-mail address (or name) exist at the company it claims to be from? Either a Google search or visiting the company’s website and doing a search should yield an answer. In the case of my letter, while the company existed, the name of the person it was sent from did not.
  • Check the date of the e-mail against the date the contest ended. If the contest ended quite a bit in the past and you are just getting notified, it should be a red flag.  While it is possible to receive notification months after a sweepstakes ends, it is just one of several things to consider together with other clues.  Checking the rules for the contest end date and drawing date will help decipher the answer.
  • Does the letter address you personally? Usually you must provide your basic information, including your name, to enter a sweepstakes. If the letter merely refers to you as “winner” then that is a red flag.  But again, this should be taken with all other clues.  Today I received a win notice that referred to me as “winner” but turned out to be legitimate.
  • Does the contest exist and did you enter it? Search for the name of the contest online. If you cannot find it referenced anywhere, it probably does not exist.  Also, if you did not enter the contest, whether it exists online or not, then you did not win it. In the case of my letter, I could not find that any such contest existed.
  • Does it cost money to claim your prize? On my letter, the prize description was for Free Roundtrip Airfare Tickets from certain airports.  However, upon closer examination, the redemption instructions included having to buy a 5-night minimum stay at their resort.  IMPORTANT: You never need to buy anything to claim a legitimate sweepstakes prize.
  • If the letter has an option that says, “Click here to leave mailing list,” that is a sure sign that it is not a personal letter, but rather a pitch that has gone out to an entire mailing list.
  • Are there links? Please do not click any links in the e-mail until you have verified that your win is legitimate.  These could be used by scammers to verify your personal information.

Selling Prizes for Fun and Fixing

Sold!

In past blog posts, I have talked about some reasons for sweeping other than just winning prizes for yourself.  These included gifting to friends and family and donating to local charitable causes. But there is another advantage to winning prizes: selling them to buy something else you want or need.  I have two examples from this year where I won large prizes and sold them for one thing I wanted and something else I needed.

A little over a year ago on July 21, 2016 I was fortunate enough to win a regional contest for a Yamaha Waverunner and trailer worth around $9000.  At first I couldn’t decide whether to keep it or sell it. So, I kept it unused in my garage through the winter, and in the spring decided that it was best to sell it.  I took it back to the dealer that distributed the prize and negotiated a fair price.  I then took the money to do something I have always wanted to do!  I registered myself and a friend for the National Sweepstakes Convention Cruise, which happens this fall.  I had been wanting to attend the convention for several years, but was never in a financial position to do it.  Selling the Waverunner connected me to my dream goal (and quite a nice vacation opportunity!)

Earlier this year I won a $5000 pinball machine.  When I got it, the key was missing and though I tried hard to track it down from the sponsor and distributor, I had no luck.  I had a machine I couldn’t play.  Knowing this, the distributor put me in touch with a local businessman who was looking for a pinball machine. We negotiated a price, and the buyer paid me and picked it up. The very next day, our hot water heater broke.  It was an unexpected expense, and due to other priorities, not one we had set money aside for.  How fortunate that I had just sold the pinball machine!  We used that money to get a new water heater.

So now I don’t just enter sweepstakes where I want the prize.  I enter sweepstakes for prizes I perhaps could not use, but I know that I could sell for money.  Then I can treat myself to my true desires!

New Layout

Shine On Owl

As you may have noticed, there is a new layout and color scheme to the blog since your last visit.  I wanted to make it more fun to look at, as well as more colorful.  Plus I loved the owl with the phrase Shine On because according to the Urban Dictionary, that phrase means: “The act of showing off your bling or expensive thing that glistens or “shines” in the light that is a sign you have excessive amounts of money (Rims, diamonds, gold, silver, etc.)”  What better phrase for a sweepstakes website?!

Putting in a Little Extra Effort to Score the Prize

local-giveaways-button

It’s possible to win a prize in any sweepstakes.  Someone has to be the winner!  But there are certain conditions that make it easier to win.  It is much easier to win a regional or local contest because the entry pool is much smaller.  Now think about how many people will go out of their way to attend an event or go to a business to enter for a chance at a prize.  It’s not likely that near as many people will do this, because it is much more work than entering online or on social media.

Over just the past week and coming week, there have been five giveaways here where I live in Boise in which the rules require you to enter in person.

This past weekend a local coffee shop was having a grand opening celebration of their newest location.  They advertised for the opening on social media.  I saw on Facebook that they were giving a bike away as part of the celebration, but you had to come into the new location to register to win.  However, their ad only gave cross streets and no exact address.  My husband and I drove to the approximate location, but had no luck in finding the shop. So, in the end, I did not get to enter the giveaway.  This was a big mistake on the shop’s part because it limited the exposure of their new shop.  On the other hand, whoever won the bike likely had even less competition than usual for a local contest.

A local car dealership is giving away a backyard makeover. No purchase is necessary to enter to win, but you do have to physically go to the dealership to register to win.  I entered one of their giveaways last year, and remember that I did not even have to listen to a sales pitch.  I just told the associate I was only there to enter the drawing, and got to do so. For their current giveaway, I noticed the ad for it on Facebook today.  My husband and I drove down to the dealership only to find they were closed.  It did not say this in the ad, but perhaps I should have realized it was Sunday!  But the contest is going on until the end of the month, so I have another chance to enter.  Because the location was advertised, it is likely more people will enter this contest than the coffee shop one.  Indeed, the prize is also much bigger for this giveaway. However, being a local contest and the fact that you must enter in person still make the odds better than a national contest.

This weekend the local PetSmart was offering a drawing for a $50 store gift card which could only be used on certain limited items.  The occasion was celebrating small dogs.  The contest rules stated that you had to enter the drawing between 1-2pm that day and must be present for the drawing at 1pm in order to claim your prize.  When we arrived at the store a little after 1pm we realized that not many people were present.  It was a very hot day and driving in a hot car to a pet store was probably not on many people’s priority list.  In addition, having to wait around for a drawing to happen does not fit into everyone’s busy schedules. My husband and I were both allowed to enter (meaning it was a per person entry and not a per household).  We waited the hour, but unfortunately were not drawn as winners. But considering all the circumstances that would deter people entering this local contest, the odds were better than usual.

Today was National Ice Cream Day, and to celebrate McDonald’s was running a one-day promotion.  You were supposed to download the McDonald’s app, use it to claim your free ice cream cone offer, and then at the store you had the opportunity to win a year’s worth of ice cream plus a check for over $4000. The prize could be given at any freestanding McDonald’s nationwide, but you had to follow those steps to enter.  What was not clear from the rules was how a winner was determined.  Was it from scanning the app’s coupon? Was it something the employee had to do to enter you? I asked at the counter about that, and the employee had no idea that the sweepstakes was even happening, let alone how to make sure I was entered.  I have had other experiences with national chain employees not knowing about contest’s their company is running.  Clearly this is a training issue.  Either the company is not communicating with the managers, or the managers are not communicating with their employees.

Next on my list is a Camping World giveaway of an RV.  This contest started with the opportunity to register in advance of the prize day, and have a code e-mailed to you.  You then must bring the code to your nearest participating Camping World to check if your code opens the vault.  If it does, you are a winner!  Next Saturday is the big day for that, so I have it on my calendar to show up with my code to try!

My final advice is to make that extra effort to win local contests.  You might not win every single one, or maybe you won’t win any, but the odds are in your favor!

Lessons Learned from Winning International Travel

me before you sweepstakes poster

On July 7, 2016 I received an e-mail notifying me that I had won a trip for two to London.  I had one year to take the trip, and the time is finally here.  I will be in London from May 1 – May 7.  My trip includes airfare, hotel, breakfast, some tours, an English tea, and more.  It’s the middle of the night as I write this post because I am too excited to sleep.  I have been buying travel supplies and packing.  But I wanted to share with you some of the things I have learned through this process.

  1. Have your passport before you enter to win an international trip. Once I won and accepted, I had to fill out forms including my current passport information within the week.  Obviously, if you didn’t already have a passport this would not be enough time to obtain one.  That may mean you would have to forfeit the prize.  Luckily, I had prepared myself by applying for a passport at the beginning of that year “just in case” I won a trip!

 

  1. Read your passport. There is a lot of information about how to fill it out properly, about international travel and who to contact if your passport is stolen.  One piece of great advice is to make copies of the data page and keep them in different places just in case.

 

  1. When to expect your details and trip itinerary. Even though it has been almost a year since I won the trip, I did not receive my finalized travel and booking information until one month before the trip.  This may vary depending on the sponsor, but just know it may not be something you will receive immediately.

 

  1. Check your reservations for accuracy. When I received my plane reservation, I noticed that they had spelled my last name wrong.  Of course, I would not get too far if my identification card and plane reservation names didn’t match.  I simply contacted the travel planner and they quickly made the correction.

 

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for needed alterations of the schedule. The worst they can say is no.  In  my case, I wanted to stay a couple days longer in London to make sure I had enough time to see everything.  I asked if they would still cover the airfare, and the response was yes if it was equal to or lesser than the original airfare plan.  It ended up being to our benefit.  Since the tickets were cheaper by extending the trip, the sponsor ended up including more fun things for the days they covered.  I will simply have to pay for another hotel for those remaining two days.

 

I am looking forward to sharing the outcome of the trip with my readers when I return.  Perhaps I will learn a few more lessons, but hopefully it will just be great fun and memories to report.

Turning Down a Prize

thank you lemur

I’ve been meaning to write a sweepstakes post about this since the beginning of January.  What happens if you need to turn down a prize and why might you do so?  Well, January 9 was the first time I had to deal with these questions in all my years of sweeping.  At that time, I got an e-mail that I won an Oscar Red Carpet Experience in the PEOPLE’s Red Carpet Oscars Fan Experience 2017 Sweepstakes. At first I was excited at the prospect of getting to view the Oscars and see all the stars!  But then I realized certain expenses such as airfare were not covered.  I knew it would be difficult to come up with the extra money at that time, but also did not want to miss out on a once in a lifetime experience.  I am a member Sweeties Secret Sweeps which has a forum where fellow sweepers can ask each other questions and advice.  I posted my dilemma there, and got responses ranging from people that had won this prize in previous years and recommended going, to those that said the expense did not seem worth what you got unless you were a superfan.

In the end, I simply sat down and added up all the potential expenses and compared that to the value of the trip, and I decided that it was not something I should do at that time.  What should you do if you are in a similar situation?  While it’s an individual choice, an article on The Balance may help you make that decision.  The article talks about avoiding turning down prizes, reasons for turning down prizes, and how to turn down the prize.  You can check out this article here.

While I hope you will never have to face this dilemma, some of the ideas and advice in this post and that article should help you make an informed and satisfactory decision.

Sweepstakes Resolutions

newyearpop

While 2016 was my best sweepstaking year yet, I’m still not sorry it’s over.  During the year I was diagnosed with melanoma, but it was successfully removed.  In fact, tomorrow is my first three month check up since the surgery.  Last year I also submitted a proposal to teach a class on sweepstaking for community education, but it was denied.  So I have some strong resolve for 2017 to accomplish the following:

  • Schedule monthly meetings of the Boise Sweepstakes Club. If you live in Idaho and want to check us out see our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/boisesweepstakesclub
  • Enter even more sweepstakes
  • Reapply to teach my sweepstaking class, and if my proposal is still rejected then hold a free public class at the library
  • Last year I was rattling around some thoughts on writing a sweepstakes memoir. I hope for 2017 that I will finally put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and get it done!

How did 2016 turn out for you?  Do you have any new sweepstakes resolutions for 2017?  Please let me know in the comments.  Hopefully we can help keep each other motivated this year!

Your Timeline or Mine?

A few weeks ago, in an online sweepers forum that I check every once in a while, someone complained they were not getting their prize in a timely manner.  They had won close to the beginning of summer and here it was almost October. Their main question was will I still have to pay taxes on a prize I haven’t yet received?  Responses to this post assured the prize winner that he would get his prize before the end of the year.  That it was normal for very large companies to take a long time to fulfill the prize.  Others suggested that the prize winner contact, and continue to contact, the prize fulfillment company until he got a clear answer to his question.  Still others said that bothering the fulfillment company does not speed the process along.

I actually didn’t think much of this post because such a situation had never happened to me.  I could not relate to the original post and I could not deliver any advice on the matter.  Until shortly after that when it happened to me!  I won a prize and sent in all my required paperwork.  After not hearing anything, I followed up two weeks later to verify they had received my documents.  I was assured they had and was told I would be hearing from someone soon.  More than a month went by and I got a little concerned.  I reached out one more time, afraid they would see me as a pest but also afraid I would not get my prize.  At this time, I was told that everything was in the final stages and I would be receiving it “soon.”  I have my fingers crossed that I will.

There are some things to remember however.  When you win a large prize from a large company, first the company must verify your eligibility through the paperwork you filled out for them.  Then, the matter is likely passed to a prize fulfillment company, who will have quite a lot of prizes to fulfill from various company’s sweepstakes.  You might not be first in line. But it is usually not the sponsoring company’s fault if things are not fulfilled in a timely manner.  Also, in the case of a big prize, the procurement department of the prize fulfillment company may have some hoops to jump through, paperwork, etc. in order to fulfill the prize.

All this is not to say never follow up.  If done in a polite and well-timed manner, following up on a prize taking a long time to receive can be a good idea.  But don’t necessarily jump to the conclusion that you will never get your prize from a sweepstakes.  We are very excited about our wins and want things to happen on our own timeline, but unfortunately it happens on theirs.