What to Do When CAPTCHAs Won't Work

How to Deal With Invalid CAPTCHA Codes

CAPTCHAs are distorted letters and numbers that aim to block bots and scripts from submitting forms online. This is a benefit for real people who want to enter sweepstakes, because it helps prevent cheaters from entering.

However, bots become more adept at deciphering CAPTCHAs over time, which means programmers have to make CAPTCHAs increasingly difficult to read. And that can make entering a form frustrating for real humans as well.

When you enter an invalid CAPTCHA, you won't be able to submit your form. You'll be asked to try again, or even blocked from trying to enter at all.

The most common reason why a real person would have multiple invalid CAPTCHA responses is that they are having trouble reading the letters and characters — which are, after all, purposely hard to read.

Luckily, there are some strategies that can help. Try these tips if you can't get a CAPTCHA code to work.

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If at First You Don't Succeed, Load, Load Again

Frustrated college student studying at computer
Frustrated by CAPTCHAs? Here Are Some Strategies to Try. Hero Images/Getty Images

If your CAPTCHA isn't being accepted, the problem might not be with your reading or your typing — the code might simply have expired. If you open a page and don't submit your entry form right away, your CAPTCHA might be invalid.

For example, a strategy to enter sweepstakes faster is to open several entry forms at the same time, fill them out, and submit them one after another. But when you do this, it can take a while to actually fill out the entry form.

Many CAPTCHAs have an anti-hacking feature that causes them to expire after a few minutes. This prevents hackers from, say, sending the CAPTCHA image to a CAPTCHA mill service, where low-wage workers crack the code and send it back to a hacker.

To see if that's the problem, try reloading the page to get a new code, then fill out and submit the form right away.

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Llamas, Iguanas, and the Number 1

Depending on the font a CAPTCHA uses, a lower-case "l" as in "llama" can look exactly the same as an uppercase "I" as in "Iguana", or even the number "1." Confusion between these three characters could be the reason why you can't get the CAPTCHA to work properly.

If your CAPTCHA won't submit, check for these symbols. If it contains one of them, try the other possibilities.

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O, Those Zeros

It can be very difficult to tell the difference between an uppercase letter "O" as in "Ocean" and the numeral "0" or zero. This is especially true when the CAPTCHA has distorted the characters, they're lying sideways, or otherwise don't look the way they normally do.

If you've been trying the letter O or the number zero and the CAPTCHA won't go through, try the other option.

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Forget 2, 4 the Problem's 6 and 8

The numbers "6" and "8" are clearly different, right? Well, they are until CAPTCHAs put squiggly lines behind them to confuse automatic image readers. One of those squiggles could easily make it hard to tell the difference between the two numerals.

Squiggles can confuse many other characters as well. Depending on their placement and font, a "c" can look like an "o," an "o" look like an "a," and other characters can be hard to distinguish. 

If your CAPTCHA is being rejected, take a close look to make sure that your eyes aren't being thrown off by background graphics.

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A Case of the Wrong Case

Some CAPTCHAs don't care if the letters you enter are upper or lowercase, but others are case-sensitive. That means that your shift key might be the reason why your CAPTCHA isn't going through.

If the CAPTCHA shows both upper and lowercase letters, be sure to enter your characters exactly as displayed. If all the letters have the same case, you might be able to enter it either way, but if you are getting invalid CAPTCHAs, try capitalizing the characters exactly as they're shown.

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When Case Sensitivity Is Too Sensitive

Of course, case-sensitive captchas open the door for even more confusing letters. For example, an uppercase "O" can look a lot like a lowercase "o" when the letters are different sizes; the same is true with "C" and "c."

If your CAPTCHA is being stubborn, try changing the case of letters that look the same in upper- and lower-case to see if it helps.

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When the Eyes Don't Have It

One of the drawbacks of CAPTCHAs is that they are difficult for people with visual impairments to use. To get around this problem, some sweepstakes offer an audio version of their captchas.

If this is an option, try listening to a hard-to-enter code. Look for a small speaker symbol near the CAPTCHA to turn on audio mode. It's often easier to hear the code than to read it.

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There's No Shame in Admitting Defeat

If you're still having trouble with a CAPTCHA, you don't have to let it drive you crazy. Instead, try reloading it to get a different code that might be easier to decipher.

You can usually do this by reloading the page in your browser. Some entry forms also offer the option to click on the code or press a reload button to get an easier-to-read captcha.

Don't Get Frustrated!

When you enter sweepstakes, annoying CAPTCHAs are just one of the frustrations you might face. Remember, being a winner is a marathon, not a sprint. Be patient and persistent and the prizes will come!