Is That Sweepstakes Safe to Enter?

7 Questions to Evaluate Whether a Giveaway Is Legitimate

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Most sweepstakes are run by legitimate companies that really give you the chance to win attractive prizes simply for entering. However, there are 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, scams, or identity theft?

Use these seven questions to evaluate sweepstakes and decide whether they're safe to enter.

1. Does the Website Have a Privacy Policy?

Sweepstakes sites need to collect personal information from you to be able to enter you no giveaways. That makes them a prime target for spammers to imitate, since they want to get your personal information, too. One way that legit sweepstakes stand out from the rest is that they tell you exactly how they are planning on using that information through a privacy policy.

A good privacy policy tells you how the sponsor is going to use the information that they collect from you. It specifies how your information is stored, whether they'll share it with any partner companies, and how they will keep it safe. 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 have a privacy policy and clearly say that they will spam you and misuse your personal information. You, obviously, want to avoid those.

Just having a privacy policy doesn't mean a giveaway is legit. After all, spammers can slap up a privacy policy as well. But not having one is a bad sign that should make you hesitate to enter.

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. Some jurisdictions have specific laws covering what needs to be in the rules and how an entrant should be able to find them.

Sweepstakes rules may be many pages long, or they may only cover 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 having a free method of entry.

Some signs that a sweepstakes site is a scam include: 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.

Sweepstakes are never pay-to-play. If a company seems to be trying to get money from you, stay away.

4. Does the Sweepstakes Ask for Reasonable Information?

It's standard for legitimate sweepstakes 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 to promote their giveaways, but they should make it clear who is hosting the sweep and why. You might find this information in the rules.

You can also search for the sweepstakes' name to see if any company is sending out press releases or advertising it in the news.

If you cannot find any sign of a company behind a sweepstake, this is a sign that the giveaway is a scam attempt.

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 a legitimate company's website. They steal color schemes, styles, and logos to try to appear as if their target sponsor approved them.

A good way to check whether sweepstakes really come from reputable sponsors is to visit the company's main web page and see if it references the sweep. Not all sponsors advertise their giveaways on their main web pages, but many 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 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 suspect that the giveaway is not legitimate.