How to Recognize Sweepstakes Scams on Twitter

Don't Fall for Fake Twitter "Wins"

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Legitimate Win via Tweet or a Twitter Sweepstakes Scam?

Have you received notice that you've won a sweepstakes via a tweet on Twitter? Hopefully, it means a great prize is in store for you. But (you knew there was going to be a but, didn't you?) you need to take a beat to check out that win before you respond, to make sure that it isn't a cruel scam.

Why are people sending fake win notifications through Twitter?

They could be hoping to get access to your personal information by having you fill out a spoofed prize claim form, or they could be luring you to visit a website designed to infect your computer with viruses or spyware. (Read about how sweepstakes scams work for more information)

Want to tell the difference between a Twitter sweepstakes scam and a legitimate win to protect yourself from information theft and worse.

Here's How:

  1. Recognize what Fake Twitter Wins Look Like

    Fake Twitter win notifications usually come as an @reply which include a congratulations message followed by a link to a website. Oftentimes, the link is disguised by using a URL shortener so that you can't see exactly what page the link leads to.
     

    Here's an example of a scam Twitter win that I received:

    @ContestsGuide Congratulations ContestsGuide! You have been chosen for our prize! http://fakewebsiteaddress.com/ContestsGuide.
    The website led to a form where I was asked to provide personal information, which the scammers surely planned to use for identity theft.

    Do you notice how vague the fake tweet was about what I won, and from where? That should be a big red flag that you could be dealing with a scammer.

    @Replies are less trustworthy than win notifications received by direct messages, because you can only get direct messages from Twitter accounts that you are following.
  1. Ask Yourself: Did You Enter the Sweepstakes?

    OK, so let's say you receive a tweet that tells you that you've won a specific giveaway. Does that mean you can trust it? Well, not necessarily.

    If you remember you've entered that sweepstakes, it's a good sign. But if you're anything like me, you enter more Twitter sweepstakes than you can remember. So how can you tell whether you really entered or not?
     

    If you tweeted to enter the sweepstakes, you can search for Tweets you sent by searching for your user name in the search field on the right-hand side of the Twitter page.

    You can also do an internet search to see whether that company ran a sweepstakes with that name.

    And if you received your win notice via @reply, you can "View Conversation" on Twitter to see whether they are truly responding to a post you made.

  1. Has More Than One User Tweeted You About Your Win?

    Most real companies will have one representative contact you about your wins. If you receive notices from a string of different user names all at once, it's probably a scammer trying too hard.

    But check the time stamp underneath the Tweet to be sure that you're not seeing second notices about your win.
  2. Check if the User Name Seems Legitimate

    Here are a few ways to check if the win notification is coming from a legitimate account:
     
    • Click on the user name that sent the win notification to see if it has made other legitimate posts. If the only thing you see in their Tweets is a huge list of "winners" that they're trying to scam, it's not a legitimate win.
       
    • Does the user name have a Bio (found on the upper right-hand side of their Twitter page) that describes the company they're representing?

       

    • Does the user name have a proportionate amount of followers and people they're following? If no one is following them, it means that no one's found them interesting enough to read, which is unlikely for a real company.

      If they're not following anyone, it means they're not even trying to seem like a real account.
       
    • Is the account verified? Some companies and celebrities verify their accounts, so that you can differentiate them from scammers. PCH is a good example (you won't receive a winning tweet from PCH. Check out how PCH notifies legitimate winners).
  1. Find Out Where the Link Leads Before You Click

    If your win notification includes a link to a website, check out whether that website is legitimate before you click on it. Do a Google search for the website's name and for the website's name followed by the word "scam" to see if anyone else has had problems with that site.
     

    How to Check Out Shortened URLs
    If the Twitter win notification has a shortened URL, you can use a service like LongURL.org to find out where the link leads before clicking on it.

    If you use TweetDeck to enter Twitter sweepstakes, it has an option to show you the destination of shortened URLs before you click through. Other Twitter clients may offer similar options.

  2. Conclusion

    As exciting as it is to think you've won a prize, taking a second to make sure that the win notice is legitimate can save you a lot of heartache.