How to Tell If Sweepstakes Are Safe to Enter

Step-by-Step Guide to Evaluating If a Giveaway Is Legitimate

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Most sweepstakes are run by legitimate companies that really give you the chance to win attractive prizes simply for entering. However, there are sweepstakes out there that are designed to scam you. How can you tell the difference between a legitimate giveaway and a site that's trying to steal your personal information?

Use these seven questions to evaluate sweepstakes and decide whether they're safe to enter.

1. Does the Website Have a Privacy Policy?

Sweepstakes sites need to collect personal information from you to be able to enter you into giveaways. Spammers want to get your personal information, too, so it's natural that they try to imitate sweepstakes. One way that legit sweepstakes stand out from the rest is that they use a privacy policy to tell you exactly how they will use the information they gather.

A good privacy policy tells you why the company needs the information that they collect from you and what they'll do with it. It specifies they'll store your information, whether they'll share it with any partner companies, and how they'll keep it safe. This information is sometimes also included in the rules.

You should be sure to read through the privacy policy, especially if you have a "bad feeling" about the sweepstakes' website. Some sites have a privacy policy that clearly says the company will spam you and or use your personal information in a way that makes you uncomfortable. You obviously want to avoid giveaways like that.

Of course, just having a privacy policy doesn't mean a giveaway is legit. After all, spammers can make a fake privacy policy and never follow it. But not having one is a bad sign that should make you hesitate to enter.

2. Is There a Clear Set of Sweepstakes Rules?

Legitimate sweepstakes sites have rules that govern their contests, and they make those rules clearly available to their entrants. Some jurisdictions have specific laws covering what needs to be in the rules and how the company should make them available for entrants.

Sweepstakes rules might be many pages long, or they might only cover a sentence or two, but they should be present and easy to find.

You should avoid sweepstakes that have no rules whatsoever. When you enter those sweepstakes, you don't have much protection that the giveaway will be run fairly.

Also, scammers often don't bother writing sweepstakes rules, or they have rules that are clearly lacking in details: they're unspecific, have poor grammar and spelling, or are far too short. If you think you're entering a giveaway from a big company whose rules don't appear to be checked by their legal department, that's a bad sign.

3. Does the Giveaway Follow Sweepstakes Laws?

Legitimate sweepstakes follow the basic laws that govern contests and giveaways. These include making it clear that you have not won before you enter, not charging a fee to enter (except in the case of some creative contests), and having a free method of entry.

Some signs that a sweepstakes site is a scam include requiring proof of purchase without an alternate entry method, charging an entry fee, and promising you better chances to win if you make a purchase.

Sweepstakes are never pay-to-play. If a company seems to be trying to get money from you, stay away.

4. Does the Sweepstakes Ask for Reasonable Information?

It's standard for legitimate sweepstakes to ask you for information such as your name, address, date of birth, email address, and telephone number.

However, they should never require that you enter financial information such as a credit card number, bank account number, or social security number in order to enter to win.

If you win a prize, you might be required to give the sponsor your social security number, but this should never be asked on an entry form before you are declared a potential winner.

5. Is There a Legitimate Company Behind the Giveaway?

Legitimate companies run sweepstakes to promote their products, websites, or services. If you can't tell who the sponsor is or what they are promoting, you should be extremely wary of the sweepstakes.

Some legitimate sponsors create separate websites to promote their giveaways, but they should make it clear who is hosting the giveaway and why. You might find this information in the rules.

You can also search for the sweepstakes' name to see if the company behind it is sending out press releases or advertising it in the news.

If you can't find any sign of a company behind a sweepstake, this is a sign that the giveaway is a scam.

6. Can You Get to the Sweepstakes From the Sponsor's Website?

Sometimes disreputable companies will try to seem more legitimate by creating a sweepstakes site that mimics a legitimate company's website. They steal color schemes, styles, and logos to try to appear as if their target sponsor approved them.

A good way to check whether sweepstakes really come from reputable sponsors is to visit the company's main web page and see if it references the sweep. Not all sponsors advertise their giveaways on their main web pages, but many do.

7. Do You Have a Bad Feeling?

Some sweepstakes sites will just give you the creeps, even though you can't pinpoint exactly why. If you get a bad feeling about a particular giveaway, just pass it by.

There are more sweepstakes out there than you could possibly enter, so there's no reason to risk putting your personal information at risk if you suspect that the giveaway is not legitimate.

By asking these seven questions before you enter giveaways, you can help avoid scam sweepstakes and enter only those giveaway where you have a legitimate chance of winning.