If you enter Twitter sweepstakes, you'll probably receive win notifications via tweet. This is the easiest way for the giveaway's sponsor to get in touch with their winners. But before you respond, you need to take a moment to make sure that the tweet is legitimate and not a cruel scam.
Why would anyone send a fake tweet telling you you've won? Sometimes, it's a scheme to lure you into filling out a spoofed prize claim form and giving up sensitive information. Or the tweets could be designed to lure you to visit a website that infects your computer with viruses or spyware.
Either way, these fake tweets can be very bad news indeed. So before you click on any links, check out these five tips on how to tell the difference between legitimate tweets and scams:
1. Recognize a Fake Twitter Win Notification
Fake Twitter prize notifications usually come as an @reply that includes a congratulations message and a link to a website. Oftentimes, the link uses a URL shortener so that you can't see exactly what page the link leads to.
Here's an example of a scam tweet:
@ContestsGuide Congratulations ContestsGuide! You have been chosen for our prize! http://fakewebsiteaddress.com/ContestsGuide.
The website leads to a form where the recipient is asked to provide personal information, which the scammers can use for identity theft.
This tweet contains a few clear red flags. It's vague about which prize you've won, and it doesn't mention which contest you won it from. It doesn't include any information that the sender couldn't find in the victim's profile — it addresses the target by their public Twitter handle.
@Replies are less trustworthy than win notifications received by direct messages because anyone can send an @reply, but you can only get DMs from Twitter accounts that you are following. It's easy for scammers to tweet a large number of random Twitter accounts if they don't need to get you to follow them first.
2. Verify Whether You Entered the Giveaway
Even if the winning tweet in question includes the name of the giveaway, it could still be a scam. Before you respond, ask yourself whether you remember entering a giveaway with that name or from that sponsor.
If you enter more sweepstakes than you can remember, there are a couple of ways to double-check if it's likely that you entered the giveaway in your notification. To start with, you can search for Tweets you might have sent to enter the giveaway. Just put your username in the search field on the right-hand side of the Twitter page.
If that doesn't help, you can run an internet search to see whether that company ran a giveaway with that name.
If you received your win notice via @reply, you can "View Conversation" on Twitter to see whether they are truly responding to a post you made.
3. Has More Than One User Tweeted You About Your Win?
Most real companies will have one representative contact you about prizes you've won. Scammers, on the other hand, may deluge you with tweets from a variety of different accounts. If you receive notices from a string of different usernames all at once, it's probably a scammer trying too hard.
The same holds true with recipients of a prize. While a giveaway might be offering lots of prizes, if you search for the text of the tweet and find that it's been sent to tons of different users, that's a red flag.
4. Check Whether the User Name Seems Legitimate
Your next step to verify whether your Twitter win is legit is to look into the user name hat sent it. Did your tweet originate from a legitimate account?
To start, click on the username that sent the win notification to see if it's made other legitimate posts. If the only thing you see in their Tweets is a huge list of "winners" that they're trying to scam, it's unlikely to be a legitimate prize.
Does the user name have a bio on the upper right-hand side of their Twitter page that describes the company they're representing?
Does it have a proportionate amount of followers and people they're following? If no one's following them, it means that no one's found them interesting enough to read, which is unlikely for a real employee of a real company.
If they're not following anyone, they're not even trying to seem like a real account.
Has the account been verified? Some companies and celebrities verify their accounts so that you can differentiate them from scammers. PCH is a good example — though you won't receive a winning tweet from PCH. Check out how PCH notifies legitimate winners.
5. Find Out Where the Link Leads Before You Click
If your win notification includes a link to a website, check whether that website is legitimate before you click on it. Do a Google search for the website's name and for the website's name followed by the word "scam" to see if anyone else has had problems with the site.
If the Twitter win notification has a shortened URL, you can use a service like LongURL.org to find out where the link leads before clicking on it.
If you use TweetDeck to enter Twitter sweepstakes, it has an option to show you the destination of shortened URLs before you click through. Other Twitter clients may offer similar options. If the destination seems suspicious, take care before clicking through.
Hopefully, all of your winning tweets will be from legitimate companies letting you know about great wins. But by taking a few minutes to be sure that the tweets are legitimate, you can save yourself a lot of trouble and heartache.