The possibility of winning big keeps people signing up for online contests, despite the fact that many prove to be scams. Before you click that link and add your personal information to that form, here are some tips for spotting a scam contest.
Payment Required to Claim Prizes – Winners of legitimate contests or sweepstakes will never be required to pay a fee to receive their winnings. Service fees, processing charges or shipping and handling fees are all signs that a contest is fraudulent.
Check Out the Email Address – Contests sponsored by large companies or well-known organizations will send notification emails from an official email address. Emails that originate from a free service like Gmail or Yahoo! should be considered a red flag.
Typos and Grammatical Mistakes – An email rife with spelling problems and typos is a sure sign of fraud. Sponsors of legit contests are trying to promote their brand; they would never allow such unprofessional correspondence to be sent out.
Non-Disclosure Agreements – Contests and sweepstakes are, at their heart, promotional tools. They exist to raise brand awareness, so if you’re urged to keep your winnings a secret for “security reasons,” you should be suspicious.
High Pressure to Act Quickly – Scammers will urge “winners” to act quickly, in hopes that they won’t take the time to do a web search or find information that will prove them fraudulent. Even time-sensitive prizes will allow winners enough time to do some research.
You’ve “Won” a Contest You Didn’t Enter – Entering a passel of contests can sometimes create confusion, but you should always keep track of which contests you’ve entered. One of the first warning signs of a scam contest is a win notification for something you never entered.
Receiving a Large Check in the Mail With Notification – Fake checks can be so convincing that even bank tellers are fooled, but contest sponsors will not send a large check by mail along with your winner’s notification. Before a check is cut and mailed, especially for amounts more than $600 USD, sponsors will require an affidavit.
You’re Instructed to Wire Funds – Wire services like Western Union are almost as difficult to track as cash; as a result, many scammers will request that “processing fees” be paid this way. Even if there is an entry fee for a legitimate contest, they won’t require money to be sent via wire service.
Sender of Win Notification Doesn’t Use Your Name – The people running scam contests send out thousands of emails, knowing that most will be ignored. Instead of personalizing each email, generic greetings like “Dear Sir” are favored.
Clumsily Worded Notification Emails – Because the majority of fraudulent contests originate overseas, those sending the emails are likely to speak English as a second language. Even if all of the words are spelled correctly, they may be used improperly or phrased awkwardly. Notifications from legitimate contests will be written clearly, usually at a college level.
Falling victim to a contest scam is potentially devastating. The best case scenario is that your email inbox will be flooded with spam; the worst is money lost to fraudulent fees and even identity theft. Running a quick Google search with the name of the contest is another quick way of checking for legitimacy; scams will often return results for consumer alert sites and fraud watch services.