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.