Is That Sweepstakes Safe to Enter?

7 Questions to Evaluate Whether a Giveaway Is Legitimate

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While most sweepstakes are run by legitimate companies that really give you the chance to win attractive prizes simply for entering, there are, unfortunately, scams out there. How can you tell the difference between a legitimate giveaway and a site that's trying to get your personal information for spam marketing, scams, or identity theft? Here are seven questions to ask to evaluate sweepstakes and decide whether they are safe to enter.

1. Does the Website Have a Privacy Policy?

Legitimate sweepstakes sites will tell you how they are going to use the information that they collect from you. They specify how your information is stored, whether it is shared with any partner companies, and how they will use that information in the future. This information may also be 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 will have a privacy policy and clearly say that they will spam you and misuse your personal information.

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. These rules may be many pages long, or they may only need a sentence or two, but they should be present and easy to find. You should avoid sweepstakes that have no rules whatsoever -- they are clearly more interested in getting your information than in running a fair contest.

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 by having a free method of entry.

Some signs that a sweepstakes site is not legitimate are 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.

4. Does the Sweepstakes Ask for Reasonable Information?

It's perfectly standard for legitimate sweepstakes sites 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 do win a prize, you may be required to reveal your social security number, but this should never be asked on an entry form.

5. Is There a Legitimate Company Behind the Giveaway?

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

Some legitimate sponsors do create separate websites for their giveaways, but they should make it clear who is hosting the sweep and why. If you cannot find any sign of a company behind a sweepstake, this is a sign that the giveaway is really an attempt to scam you out of personal information.

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 the look of a legitimate company's website. They may steal color schemes, styles, and logos to try to seem like they are approved by their target sponsor.

A good way to check whether sweepstakes really originate from the reputable sponsors they claim is to check the sponsor's main web page and see if there is any reference to the sweep. Not all sponsors will advertise their giveaways on their main web pages, but most 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 really 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 have a feeling that the giveaway is not legitimate.