5 Unsettling (but Legit) Things to Expect from Prize Notifications

Don't Mistake a Legit Sweepstakes Prize for a Scam

Image of a Woman Confused by Prize Notifications
••• Image (c) Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Getty Images

When you receive a prize notification, it's a good idea to make sure that you are not falling for a sweepstakes scam. Getting carried away by your excitement can make you a victim of identity theft or cost you big bucks.

But there's a price to being too cautious: You might ignore legit prize notifications because they seem a little off. That's why it's important to know some of the things that may seem suspicious in a prize notification, but actually aren't:

1. You Might Need to Submit Your Social Security Number

It's wise to protect your social security number, and you certainly don't want to give it out when you enter to win. But many sweepstakes sponsors legitimately need your social before releasing a prize.

Why? They need it for tax reporting purposes. In fact, if your prize is worth more than $600, it's a warning sign if the sponsor doesn't request your social! Refusing to give it to the sponsor is a legitimate reason for them to disqualify you. 

As long as you have researched your prize win and feel confident that it's legit, you can submit your social security number along with your other prize claim information.

2. You Might Have to Notarize Your Affidavits, Even for Small Wins

If you win a small prize like a t-shirt or a $10 cash card, you might expect that the sponsor will simply ship out your prize as soon as you've responded to your win. But despite the common misconception that sponsors only ask for affidavits for prizes over $600 in value, sometimes you need to get a notarized affidavit even for small prizes.

Sponsors are required to have their winners return affidavits for prizes worth over $600 in value, but they can require an affidavit for any prize value. Requiring that you find a notary for your small prize might seem like a waste of time, but it's not a red flag that you are dealing with a scam.  

3. Your Win Notification Might Arrive by Email

The way your win notification arrives can tell you something about its legitimacy. For example, arriving in a bulk mail envelope is a red flag.

However, don't be turned off if the sponsor reaches out to you online. While sponsors usually notify winners of large prizes by telephone or registered mail, email is a perfectly legitimate prize notification method.

You can make it easier to tell whether you are receiving a legitimate prize notification or a scam by email by using a dedicated sweepstakes email address when you enter. That way, you know that you can ignore any win notifications you receive in your other email addresses.

4. You Might See Minor Typos in Your Prize Notification

Many scam prize notifications are rife with typos and poorly-phrased English, it's true. That is a serious red flag. But that doesn't mean that you should write off a prize notification for a minor typo.

The people who write those win notifications are human, too, and they might have made a minor mistake.

It's also possible that you made a typo in your name or address information when you entered the giveaway. So keep in mind, a minor mistake or two is no excuse for declining a sweepstakes prize.

5. You Might Need to Pay Special Vacation Taxes

When you're asked to pay taxes to a sweepstakes sponsor instead of to the IRS, it's a clear sign that you are being scammed. You should immediately write off any win notification that asks you to pay money to receive your prize, or to give your bank account or credit card numbers.

However, there is one rare exception: some taxes on vacation prizes need to be paid ahead of time, such as port taxes on a cruise or airport taxes for flights.

So how can you tell what's legit and what isn't? Only vacation prizes have this option, and they should be listed in the rules. If you don't see them there, you're dealing with a scammer.

Conclusion

It's very important to stay alert for sweepstakes scams. However, it's equally important to not let your wins pass you by because of things that may seem a little strange, but are actually a normal part of the win notification process.

If you're unsure whether your win is legit or not, research it carefully and make an informed decision about whether to proceed or not.