Is There a Prize Hidden in Your Email? How to Spot Winning Notifications

How to Tell the Difference Between a Win and Junk Mail

Image of a Tablet Computer Reading "Congratulations You Win"
••• Image (c) Kaan-Tanman / Getty Images

Many sweepstakes notify winners by email. After all, email is more convenient than a telephone call and costs less than using mail or a delivery service.

The problem for sweepers is that email win notifications are easy to overlook. A legitimate win might get thrown out because it looks like junk, or because you're overwhelmed by the amount of mail you're receiving (in which case, you might want to take some steps to reduce the spam you're getting in your sweepstakes email account).

So how can you find the winning emails among the junk?

5 Signs You Have a Real Winning Email

The first thing that you'll want to do when you're checking to see if you have won is to scan your inbox for signs that you might have a win on your hands.

Here are five examples of good signs. Note that none of these are foolproof; you'll still need to do some more investigation to see if you are really a winner, but if you see these in your inbox, you'll want to take a closer look:

1. "Congratulations" in the Subject Line:
These are usually the easiest email win notices to recognize. They have a nice, clear subject line that tells you that you're a winner. Here is an example of an actual winning email:

"Congratulations on winning the HARO Twitter Party Giveaway!"

If you receive an email like that, you definitely want to check it out. But before you get too excited, because many companies use the word "congratulations" lightly, to indicate that you have successfully entered or joined a mailing list.

2. "Sweepstakes Name" in the Subject
Many winning emails feature the name of the sweepstakes in the subject line. Here is an example of a real email win notification:

Dickies 500 Race for the Riches Sweepstakes

Because this type of win notification doesn't say you're a winner, it's easy to overlook them or mistake them for an entry confirmation. To avoid this, it's a good idea to open every piece of email with a sweepstakes name in the subject line.

3. "Fulfillment@" in the Sender Line

Many big sweepstakes companies send their emails from a fulfillment email address. For example, here's one you will definitely want to open:


But again, it's easy for scammers to use email addresses that follow this pattern.

4. The Sender Contains a Name
Some companies send win notifications directly from their employees' email addresses. So an email from a personal name is worth a good look, especially if the subject line seems promising.

5. Sender Includes a Company Name that You Recognize
If you remember entering a giveaway and you receive an email from that company, it's worth checking it out. It might be a confirmation or a newsletter, but you don't want to take the risk of overlooking a win.

Next Step: Take a Deeper Look for Sweepstakes Wins:

Once you have checked the most obvious signs of a win notification, it's time to take some additional steps to ensure you don't overlook any potential wins.Many companies send out win notifications using subject lines and senders that you would never expect. Some tips for finding these camouflaged wins include:

  • Use an Email Address Dedicated to Entering Sweepstakes:
    Having a dedicated email address for sweepstakes makes checking through your emails for prize notifications quicker and easier.
  • When in Doubt, Check It Out:
    Especially if you're new to entering sweepstakes, you should open every email that you're not sure isn't a prize notification. Wins are sometimes mentioned casually at the end of regular-looking newsletters, and notifications have sounded like spam, at a first glance. It only takes a few seconds to open those questionable emails, and taking that time and could prevent you from overlooking legitimate wins.
  • Don't Overlook Your Spam Filter:
    Many filters consider any mail that contains words like "sweepstakes," "win," "congratulations," or "prize" to be spam or a scam, and automatically move those emails to your spam filter. This means that if you're not careful, you might never get the chance to see those five hot signs I mentioned above. Turn off your spam filter or check it regularly to make sure no legit win notifications have been sent there.
  • Unsubscribe from Newsletters You Don't Want:
    The fewer unwanted newsletters you receive in your sweepstakes inbox, the more quickly you'll be able to spot prize wins. Find out how to unsubscribe without jeopardizing prize wins. You might also want to consider subscribing to newsletters you do want to receive with your regular email address so that your dedicated sweepstakes address is easier to review.

Bad Signs: Scams and Junk Mail

Just as there are some signs that you might be a potential winner, there are also some signs that you have a scam or a junk mail on your hands. Here are some warning signs to look out for:

  • The email doesn't mention your name.
  • The sweepstakes' exact name isn't mentioned, or you don't remember entering a giveaway with the name they use and can't find any legitimate-sounding sweepstakes with that name with an internet search.
  • You're being asked for money, or bank account/credit card numbers (read 5 Things That Aren't Signs of Sweepstakes Scams to see what sensitive information is normal to share after you win).
  • You're being told you have won an international lottery, such as the Heineken Lottery.
  • The email is full of typos, misspellings, and/or bad grammar.
  • Read about the Warning Signs of Sweepstakes Scams for more.