Don’t pay for a sweepstakes list, you never have to pay to play

By Robb Hicken/ BBB’s chief storyteller

When Toni, of Payette, sent $12 to the American Sweepstakes Publishers, she was certain her entry would be a winner.

“It only asked for a $12 processing fee, and the awards was mine,” Toni says.

Little did she know that the fine print reads that her fee is not an entry to a specific contest or sweepstakes, but rather providers the consumer with a list of sweepstakes he/she may want to enter.

The cash-for-a-sweepstakes-list pitch is not new to the Treasure Valley. BBB began reporting on these pitches around 2003. Nationwide, consumer complaints about sweepstakes are on the rise, BBB reports.

All states consumer protection agencies, under the attorneys general, receive complaints about sweepstake “lists.” Promoters of sweepstakes are criticized for consistently leading people to believe they’ve won high-value money – using terms like guaranteed, confirmed and verified – and convey a sense of urgency, though the advertisements are mailed year-round and no deadline is established. The advertisements also feature confusing and ambiguous language that could lead consumers to believe they have won money. All advertisements from the company feature a small-print disclaimer explaining that the company does not offer or guarantee prizes.

How can you tell the difference between a real sweepstakes and a scam? Legitimate sweepstakes are fun and free. They specify that no purchase is needed to win and buying a product will not increase your chances of winning – you never have to pay to collect a prize.

Ask yourself these questions before you send off your cash:

  • Does the promoter ask for your credit card number, checking account number, bank account information, or other personal account information? A legitimate prize company won’t ask for this to declare you a winner.
  • Do they ask you to wire money or make a payment in an urgent manner? Do you feel pressure to make a payment within a given time deadline to collect your prize? Take a step back and evaluate the offer.
  • Does the advertising copy clearly state that no purchase is necessary to win and a purchase will not increase your chances of winning? You never have to pay to play or to collect your prize when the sweepstakes is legitimate.

According to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, inspectors nationwide responded to more than 82,000 mail fraud complaints in 2004. This year they’ve already responded to more than 53,000 complaints.

Postal Inspectors began an investigation earlier this year after receiving hundreds of complaints from people across the country about a solicitation congratulating them on winning a sweepstakes prize. Over 10 million notifications were mailed out.

The problem was, “winners” had to send a fee of $20 to $25 for “processing costs” to collect their prize. No legitimate sweepstakes offer makes you pay to collect a prize. In this case, there was no prize. Inspectors are considering criminal charges or civil penalties of up to $1 million for this scam, which involves various company names and more than 50 different solicitations.

– This post first appeared in The Idaho Statesman, Boise, Idaho.

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1 Comment

Filed under Code of Advertising

One response to “Don’t pay for a sweepstakes list, you never have to pay to play

  1. Mark Burrows

    I am still agog that the persuasion of this scheme still holds sway! After all it is merely a scheme and not truly a scam. The American Sweepstakes Publishers are merely selling their newsletter on extremely thin probability. The fact that they blatantly words things in a manner that you are likely the chosen one is simply window dressing that every recipient receives,
    The fact that they can integrate your name into the print without it looking like a cheesy after thought in a completely different font and font size, does not make the letters official.
    Yet, if you pull out your magnifying glass and read the very small print, you will learn that you are not a guaranteed winner, that the purpose of American Sweepstakes Publishers is to provide information on what sweepstakes and contests are available. It does not necessarily even mean you can enter them due to state or country restrictions.
    But, they are not only making money from you. They also get kickbacks from the companies they endorse. Think about it, most sweepstakes and contests are magazine or product driven. When you agree to your sweepstakes letters, you are also allowing your name and mailing address to go out among the advertising world. You will be plowed under with postal junk mail. If you include your email address with your information when sending in your fee, they will attack you there as well.
    So, unless you happen to love junk mail, which I suggest you seek professional help if you do, all you are doing is purchasing a $12.00 nuisance.
    Just common sense should tell anyone that when anyone is throwing around that kind of a cash prize, they are not going to ask the winner to come up with some measly processing fee. They company paying out the prize should pay everything including a gala to show you off to their clientele to show that it is possible for anyone to win.
    The only thing you really should have to stress is when the IRS gang comes around to assess your winnings, take their hefty share and jack up your income tax bracket for the next year, which you will have to fight to get back down when you windfall is gone. And here you thought winning money was a wonderful thing, not in the eyes of the Internal Revenue Services.
    Point is. When you get things in the mail that are not genuine bills, information from services you currently do business with or personal letters from people you know. Throw them into the recycle bin unopened. Well actually, buy a shredder and shred it then put the shreds into the recycle bin. Unopened mail is an invitation for people who lack scruples to pull it out of the bin and open it, then use your name for all sorts of devious foul play. Yes, I have a few suspect nosy neighbors. I’m not paranoid, I just like to give them more reasons to create non found rumors about me. I smile when ever I hear a new one going around. I’ve been everything from a secret agent for the CIA, a person in the Witness Protection Program to and out and out terrorist. Yet if these people got out of the neighborhood they would find that I am an active member of my community and do a great deal of volunteer work. Still, I have to get my laughs somehow.

    Mark Burrows

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