Magazine Sweepstakes and Subscription Scams

What You Need to Know Before Entering Magazine Sweepstakes

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. Others, however, don't love magazines but still end up paying for subscriptions that they don't want because they were tricked into signing up by a subscription scam.

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 magazine 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, in general, not scams. Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, O Magazine, Redbook, and many other publications sponsor sweepstakes that are trustworthy and fun. By entering, you can win cash, trips, household items, and other prizes that appeal to the magazine's target audience. 

But while there are legitimate magazine sweepstakes, you need to keep some things in mind when entering them, especially if you don't want to end up paying for subscriptions.

Lots (and Lots) of People Enter Magazine Sweepstakes

Some people think that magazine sweepstakes are scams because they've entered them for years without winning or even knowing anyone who's won.

Remember, however, these sweepstakes are advertised not only online but also in the magazines themselves. That means they can reach an audience of millions of potential entrants. Woman's Day Magazine alone has a circulation of more than 2 million readers.

Obviously, not all of those readers enter the giveaways, but a large percentage do, which means that your odds of winning sink.

In many cases, it's a better idea to spend your time entering sweepstakes with better odds of winning. 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 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 magazine that gives away many exciting prizes through creative presentations. The prizes can be huge, but you have an extremely slim chance of winning one.

There's nothing wrong with entering creative presentations, but if they're 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 more obtainable prizes alongside life-changing but hard-to-win sweepstakes.

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. Then they pocketed that money.

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

Sometimes, Magazine Subscriptions Are Tricky to Avoid

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.

However, these opportunities to subscribe can be tricky to avoid, especially if you're too focused on filling out an entry form to read the small print closely.

If you're interested in receiving the magazine, by all means, take advantage of the offers. You can often get great deals on the magazines that you love to read.

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 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. Look for an option to enter without subscribing. There should be 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 free entry method. All sweepstakes have to provide a non-purchase method of entry.

2. Be on the lookout for signs that you now have a subscription. Even if you're sure you used the right entry method, watch out for a mail or email that says you have subscribed to the magazine.

3. Cancel unwanted subscriptions. If you receive a subscription letter or a magazine in the mail, contact the magazine's customer service department, or return the invoice immediately and write "Did Not Subscribe — Please Cancel" on the invoice.

4. Don't ignore unwanted subscriptions. You might feel that if you didn't sign up and you didn't give a credit card number, that you can ignore unwanted magazine subscriptions. However, that's a terrible idea.

Even if they can't charge you, magazines can cause trouble for people who don't pay their subscription fees, even damaging your credit. Be proactive if you are receiving magazines that you don't want.

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

Don't be afraid to enter magazine sweepstakes, they're 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.