Disqualification from Sweepstakes: What It Is and How to Avoid It

Make Sure Your Sweepstakes Entries Count By Avoiding These Common Mistakes

How to avoid getting disqualified from sweepstakes. Chris Ryan / Getty Images

When you are trying to win a prize, it makes sense to use smart sweepstakes strategies that help you maximize your odds of winning. In fact, it might be tempting to try to tilt the odds in your favor by fudging the rules a little bit. But when you don't play by the rules, you run the risk of disqualification.

What Disqualification Is:

Merriam-Weber defines disqualification as the state of being made "ineligible for a prize or for further competition because of violations of the rules." In other words, if a company catches you breaking or bending the rules of a giveaway, you will no longer be eligible to win a prize in that giveaway.

Being disqualified is a big waste of time. The effort you spent finding and entering the giveaway is for nothing, since you no longer have any chance of winning?

How do sponsors decide who should be disqualified? For each giveaway, the sponsoring company should offer a robust set of rules detailing who can enter, how, when, and how often. The rules should include other helpful information like the details of the prize and how the winner(s) will be notified.

The rules serve as a type of contract between the entrant and the sponsoring company so that both sides know what to expect from the giveaway. Sponsors have an obligation to make sure that their winners have followed these rules. So they'll either vet all of the entries to make sure that they are valid before drawing a winner or they will double-check each of their winners to make sure that everything is on the up-and-up. If anything is off about the entry, the winners are disqualified before they are even notified.

Once the winner has been selected and notified, the sponsoring company may choose to do another round of eligibility verification using affidavits, where the winner verifies their entry information in front of a witness.

So how do you avoid disqualification? It goes without saying that you shouldn't cheat.

Cheating doesn't pay since it's so easily caught, it's immoral, discourages companies from offering giveaways (and thus, reduces the number of prizes you can win), and it can even carry legal consequences

But you don't have to be purposely cheating to have your sweepstakes entries be disqualified. If you aren't paying close attention, it's easy to make a mistake and run afoul of the rules.

Easy-to-Make Mistakes That Will Get You Disqualified From Online Sweepstakes:

Especially when you are new to entering sweepstakes, there are some easy mistakes that you can make that could get you disqualified. Here are some of the most common mistakes to avoid:

Entering Too Often: Each giveaway has an entry limit restriction that tells you how often you can enter. Some let you enter only once, others every day, and still others weekly, monthly, or as often as you want. Ignore these entry limits at your peril, because entering too often may get not only your extra entries disqualified but all of your legitimate entries as well.

Not Checking the Residency Requirements: Most sweepstakes are restricted to a specific geographic region, whether that be a country or countries, a state, a city, or a zip code.

If you enter without checking whether your home address makes you ineligible, you will be quickly disqualified and you will have wasted the time that you could have spent entering sweepstakes you could actually win.

Not Checking the Age Requirements: Similarly, there are sweepstakes for kids, for retirees, for people above the age of majority, and more. While most sweepstakes are open to people above the age of 18, checking before you enter will save your time and the sponsors'.

Not Meeting Other Eligibility Restrictions: Some giveaways have extra restrictions about who can enter. For example, sweepstakes from tobacco companies are required to ensure that only current tobacco users can enter. Other giveaways might require membership in an organization like the AARP, that entrants are customers of a subscription service (subject to the rules for no purchase necessary entry methods), and so on.

Not Following the Rules on How to Enter: The safest way to enter sweepstakes is to enter for yourself only, and to type your entries by hand. If you want to enter for a spouse or family member, or if you want to use a time-saver like a form-filling program or an automatic entry service, make sure the rules don't prohibit it first.

You Are Affiliated With the Sponsor: In order to avoid any appearance of favoritism, most companies prohibit their employees and business sponsors from entering their giveaways. Immediate family members of employees and business partners may also be ineligible to win. If you or your relatives have any relationship with the company sponsoring the giveaway, it's a good idea to check if you are restricted from entering.

Aside from these common pitfalls, it's a good idea to read the rules of each individual giveaway, to ensure that there are no additional restrictions that could get your entries disqualified.

Mistakes That Will Disqualify You From Skill-Based Contests:

Aside from all of the mistakes you can make entering online sweepstakes, skill-based contests have additional rules that can trip you up if you're not careful. Here are some of the most common mistakes that contest entrants make:

Letting Your Essays Run Too Long: Most essay contests have a strict character count or word limit. If you ramble and go over the limit, your entry could be disqualified, no matter how good it is.

Submitting Files That Are Too Large: Photo contests usually place a limit on the photo size, whereas video contests usually have a time limit for their submissions. Be sure to take these limits seriously if you want to win.

Not Using the Right Ingredients: Many recipe contests have a specific list of ingredients that you have to use or to choose among. If you don't use the right amounts of the qualifying ingredients, your entry could be tossed.

Ignoring the Contest's Theme: Every contest has a theme, whether it be a cutest baby contest or a search for the perfect recipe for burgers on the grill. Make sure that it's clear and obvious how your entry perfectly fits the theme to stay in the running.

Including Competitor's Logos: You might not realize how many logos there are out there until you start a photo or video shoot that can't include any. Most contests say that you can't use any logos or any copyrighted information (like unauthorized music) in your entries, so being less than meticulous can cost you a prize.

Having the "Wrong" People in Your Entry: Some contests say that you must be the only person involved in your photo or video entry. Others say that if you include other people, you must have a signed model release form for each person. Ether way, be sure that you don't get disqualified for the other people in your submission.

Getting Votes the Wrong Way: There are many legitimate ways to get votes for your contest entries. However, many companies will disqualify entries if they feel that you are cheating your way to more votes. Using vote exchange sites, offering cash or prizes for votes, and even soliciting votes on sweepstakes forums can get your entries disqualified.

Making the Sponsoring Company Look Bad: If you think it's cute or funny to make contest entries that mock the companies sponsoring the contest, you might be right. You might even get the votes to win. But there's a good chance that the company won't take it well, and will instead disqualify your entry, as American Apparel did when they decided that a contestant's entries had been "mocking the confident and excited participants who put themselves out there."

The Most Important Thing to Do to Avoid Disqualification:

Remember that while these are some of the most common ways of getting disqualified, this is by no means a comprehensive list. Entrants have been disqualified for overlooking a minor eligibility rule, for making a small but unauthorized change in a photo, and much more. It's important to read the rules of every giveaway and understand them thoroughly. 

Especially when it comes to contest entries, be sure to go back through the rules before you submit to be sure that you have dotted every "i" and crossed every "t," and complied perfectly with everything in the rules.