Are Magazine Sweepstakes Just Another Type of Subscription Scam?

Do Magazines Really Give Away Sweepstakes Prizes?

Magazine stand.
••• Tom Cockrem / Getty Images

Many people love to get magazines in the mail. Flipping through the glossy pages can be a guilty pleasure or a way to learn more about the world. However, some people get those subscriptions not because they love the magazine but because they got tricked into signing up.

From door-to-door sales crews that exploit underaged or underprivileged people to sell subscriptions (sometimes against their will) to fake renewal notices sent by scammers, there are a lot of magazine subscription scams out there.


But what about contests and giveaways? Are the sweepstakes advertised in magazines like Woman's Day and Good Housekeeping legitimate, or are they just another type of subscription scam?

Are Magazine Sweepstakes Just Subscription Scams?

Magazine sweepstakes are generally not scams. Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, O Magazine, Redbook, and many other publications sponsor sweepstakes that are trustworthy and fun and offer prizes that appeal to the magazine's readers including cash, trips, household items, and more. And those prizes are really awarded to legitimate entrants.

But while magazine sweepstakes are generally not scams, there are a few things to keep in mind when entering them:

Lots of People Enter Magazine Sweepstakes:

Some people think magazine sweepstakes are scams because they've entered them, sometimes for years, without winning and without knowing anyone who has won.

Remember, though that these sweepstakes are advertised not only online but also in the magazines themselves, which means that they reach hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of readers.

Woman's Day Magazine alone has a circulation of more than 4 million readers.

Obviously, not all of those readers enter the sweepstakes, but it still gives magazine sweepstakes a large pool of potential entrants, which means that your odds of winning sink. (To find sweepstakes with better odds, check out my tips on picking the best sweepstakes to enter).

It's certainly not impossible to win from magazines, but don't be surprised if you don't beat the odds.

Many Magazine Sweepstakes Are Creative Presentations:

Some of the biggest annual giveaways that magazines offer are creative presentations: sweepstakes that pool together entries from multiple sources, making the odds of winning even longer. When you enter these sweepstakes, your odds of winning can be millions to one. 

Reader's Digest ​is one such magazine that gives away many exciting prizes through creative presentations.

There's nothing wrong with entering creative presentations, but if they are the only sweepstakes you're entering, you're setting yourself up for disappointment. It's a good idea to put together a sweepstakes strategy that includes life-changing, hard-to-win sweepstakes alongside more obtainable prizes.

Scammers Can Take Advantage of Magazine Sweepstakes:

While magazine sweepstakes themselves are legitimate, scammers can take advantage of trusted names to try to convince you to hand over your hard-earned dollars.

One cunning way that scammers took advantage of a legitimate magazine sweepstakes occurred after Quick and Simple Magazine posted a list of winners online. Scammers took the information from that winner's list to contact those winners and tell them that they needed to pay "fees" to receive their prizes.

Don't fall for these scams! Make sure you know the warning signs of sweepstakes scams, and check out tips for verifying if a win is legitimate. You never need to pay money to receive a legitimate sweepstakes prize.

Watch Out for Unwanted Subscriptions:

Many magazine sweepstakes give you the opportunity to subscribe to the publication or to get a free trial when you enter. The publishers call this a courtesy, to make subscribing easy.

If you're interested in receiving the magazine, by all means, take advantage of the offers. If you don't intend to subscribe, however, be very careful when you enter. Many sweepers have complained about being signed up for unwanted subscriptions, even though they had entered through a "click here to enter without subscribing" link.

If you don't want to sign up for a magazine subscription when you enter, make sure to take the following steps:

  1. Choose the Option to Enter Without Subscribing:
    Look for a link or a radio button that says something like, "Enter sweepstakes without subscribing." If you don't see one, read the sweepstakes rules to find the entry method without signing up for the magazine. All sweepstakes have to provide a non-purchase method of entry.
  2. Be Sure You Didn't Make a Mistake:
    Even if you are sure that you entered without subscribing, watch out for a mail or email that says you subscribed to the magazine.
  3. Cancel If You Receive an Unwanted Subscription:
    If you receive one, contact the magazine's customer service department, or return the invoice immediately and write something like 'Did Not Subscribe - Please Cancel' on the invoice.
  4. Don't Ignore Problems:
    It's important that you don't simply ignore a magazine invoice. Even if they do not have a credit card to use to charge you, magazines can cause trouble for people who do not pay their subscription fees, like leaving negative reports on non-payers' credit reports, lowering their credit. So be proactive if you have been signed up for a subscription you don't want.

For more tips, find out how to unsubscribe from unwanted magazines.

Don't be afraid to enter magazine sweepstakes, they are fun and offer some really interesting prizes to win. Just be aware of the drawbacks of this type of giveaway and, as with all sweepstakes, take steps to keep yourself safe from scammers.