You may have seen news articles about someone who fell victim to a sweepstakes scam. Perhaps they lost money or their identity was stolen as a result. How do you know when you’re being scammed? How can you stay safe?
Most scams are e-mails, letters, or phone calls claiming that you have won a prize and requesting personal information or money in order to claim your prize. It’s important to remember that a legitimate sweepstakes will never ask for your bank account information and there is never a fee to enter or claim your prize.
In my 5 years of entering sweepstakes, I have only received two scam messages. One was a phone message telling me I’d won eleven free nights of camping. The caller did not leave the name of the sweepstakes on her message, so I did a Google search for the phone number. I came up with a private campsite in California that sells time shares. Just to be sure, I then searched for the name of the campsite and the word “sweepstakes.” Nothing came up but there were online complaints linked to the phone number. The complaints said they were called and told they won camping but were really targeted for a time share. I decided not to call back, and they called me about a dozen more times before getting the message.
The other scam was a bit trickier. I received a “Congratulations” e-mail that listed all the aspects of the prize that I had supposedly won, including airfare, hotel, activities and more. I looked at my list of sweepstakes that I had entered and it wasn’t there, so I did a little more research just in case I had forgotten to track that one. I searched Google for the sponsor and sweepstakes name and soon discovered there had been such a contest but that the entry period and prize was awarded one year ago to that day. Someone else had won it, and now a scammer was using the company’s information about the prize to try to get me to respond with my personal information. Luckily I caught on in time!
There are ways to stay safe from sweepstakes scams!
- Track Your Sweepstakes: If you didn’t enter it, you didn’t win it!
- Never give out bank account information or otherwise pay to claim a prize. A legitimate sweepstakes will never ask you for money.
- If you receive a vague win notification, be suspicious. Scam sweepstakes usually won’t know your name and won’t list the sweepstakes name or sponsor.
- Don’t be afraid to do a little research on the information in your win letter. Approach it with a skeptical eye until the information can be verified.