How Contest Scams Work and How to Stop Them

Avoid Becoming a Victim of Contest and Sweepstakes Fraud

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In order to recognize the signs of a sweepstakes scam, it's helpful to know the most common goals of scammers. Why do people use contests and sweepstakes to defraud people, and what are they trying to accomplish by doing so? Here are some of the most common aims of contest and sweepstakes scams.

Sweepstakes Scams that Convince You to Give Your Money Away

Outright theft is a common goal of sweepstakes scams.

In this scenario, the goal of the scam artist is to try to convince you to send them cash under false pretenses.

  • How These Scams Trick You: Usually, the way this sweepstakes scam works is that you are contacted by someone who claims that you won their sweepstakes or contest, and that all you have to do to receive your prize is to wire them money to cover taxes (or service fees, or shipping, or any number of other illegitimate excuses). They are usually in a big hurry to get you to give them your information, and don't want to give you time to think it over.
  • How to Recognize and Avoid This Sweepstakes Scam: Legitimate sweepstakes do not place strings on their prizes. You won't have to pay taxes to anyone but the IRS.

Sweepstakes Scams to Break Into Your Bank or Credit Card Accounts

Another way to steal from you using sweepstakes scams is to convince you to turn over your bank account or credit card information.

The thieves can then wipe out your accounts.

  • How These Scams Trick You: You are contacted and told that you have won a prize, but that you need to give out your bank account and/or credit card numbers before you can receive your win. Usually they say that they need that information to check your identity or to verify that you can afford the taxes.
  • How to Recognize and Avoid This Sweepstakes Scam: Legitimate sweepstakes do not need any form of payment identification. They are not required to check your income, nor do they have any good reason for doing so. Some sweepstakes sponsors require social security numbers, however; this is a legitimate question to ask before releasing a prize.

Sweepstakes Scams and the Hard Sell

Sometimes, the goal of a contest scam is not to rob you but to put you in a position where it's hard to turn down buying something.

  • How These Scams Trick You: The most common of these is a so called "win" that you have to pick up at a certain location - oh, and by the way, you need to listen to a 90-minute presentation while you're at it.

    Even worse, the prize may be far less attractive than it sounds at first. For example, a common tactic for this sweepstakes scam was to tell people that they had won one of five prizes, including a new car and a valuable piece of jewelry. What wasn't mentioned was that the fifth prize (that everyone actually won) was a discount coupon or something else completely worthless.
  • How to Recognize and Avoid This Sweepstakes Scam: Again, real wins don't have strings attached, including having to listen to sales pitches. Just turn down any of these so-called "prizes."

Sweepstakes Scams and Identity Theft

A very subtle type of sweepstakes scam leads to identity theft, where criminals attempt to trick you into giving them enough of your personal information for them to be able to pose as you and to open credit cards, take out loans, and even perpetrate crimes in your name. Find out more about Sweepstakes Scams and Identity Theft.

What to Do About Sweepstakes Scams

Some people are so concerned about sweepstakes scams that they hesitate to enter contests at all. But here's the thing - most of the time, scammers don't know whether you're a sweeper or not. They'll contact people randomly, sending out hundreds of thousands of letters or emails, hoping to hit the few people who will fall for their tricks.

Not entering sweepstakes won't help you - but recognizing the warning signs of a sweepstakes scam will. Be sophisticated enough to know how to tell legitimate wins from scams and you can safely enjoy entering sweepstakes and contests.

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