What to Expect After You Win Sweepstakes

What Do You Do After You Win a Prize?

If you're entering sweepstakes, you're surely dreaming about the prizes you're going to win. But do you know what you need to do after you've won?

This guide will walk you through the winning process, including finding out that you're a potential winner, making sure you're not being scammed, and following the proper steps to claim your prize without being disqualified.

Whether you're an old hand at entering sweepstakes or a newbie dreaming of their first prize, this guide will ensure that you're doing everything right when you win a prize.

01
Receive Your Win Notification

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The winning process usually begins when you receive a win notification, the official notice that you are a potential winner. You will remain a potential winner until you have completed the prize claim process and received your prize.

Win notifications usually arrive by email, postal mail, registered mail, telephone, or social media. It's important to make sure that you check the contact methods you use on your sweepstakes entry forms regularly; it's devastating to miss out on a big prize because you waited too long to check your email!

You should also be sure that, when you're filling out sweepstakes entry forms, you don't make a mistake that makes it difficult -- or impossible! -- for sponsors to contact you.

Double-check each form before you submit your entry to make sure you didn't make a typo or leave out important information. Form-filling programs like LastPass or Roboform can help you avoid typing mistakes.

02
Read Your Win Notification Carefully

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Once you've received your win notification, read over it carefully. There will be important information in it that you will need to follow precisely if you don't want to lose your prize.

Sometimes a win notification will tell you the prize is on its way, and you don't have to do anything else. But you'll usually need to take action to claim your prize, and you'll have a limited amount of time to react.

So be sure to read the fine print of your notification to be sure that you know exactly what you need to do to claim that prize.

03
Verify That You've Really Won

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Before you get too excited, it's a good idea to make sure that the win notification is legitimate, not a sweepstakes scam.

Once you've entered sweepstakes for a while, you'll to be able to weed out obvious scams quickly. However, some scams are sophisticated and difficult to spot.

If you have any doubt that your notification might not be legit, there are some steps to take to make verify. For example, call your contact from a number that's publicly listed for the company sponsoring the giveaway to double-check. Also, never pay any money to receive your prize.

Check out how to verify your sweepstakes prizes for more ideas.

04
Record Your Sweepstakes Prize

Adding Prize Wins to a Database
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After you've verified that your win is legit, record your sweepstakes prize before you forget the details.

Your win notification will usually include the information you'll want to track, including the sponsor's name, the sweepstakes name, what you've won, and the date that the prize is expected to arrive.

Tracking your prizes makes tax time easier; it also helps make sure that you don't let a prize slip through your fingers by reminding you to follow up if it doesn't arrive as expected.

05
Fill Out an Affidavit (If Required)

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Many win notifications include an affidavit that you'll be expected to fill out and return before you'll receive your prize.

An affidavit verifies your information and gives the sponsor the information they'll need to fulfill their tax obligations. Read more about why sponsors need affidavits.

Don't be surprised if the affidavit asks for your social security number; this is not a sign of a sweepstakes scam.

Sponsors have legitimate reasons for requesting social security numbers, and there's nothing suspicious about them asking for one before they release a prize.

06
Get Your Affidavit Notarized (If Required)

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Many sponsors require that their winners notarize their affidavit before returning it. This helps the sponsor verify that your information is accurate and that you really are eligible to win the prize.

If you're not familiar with notaries in your area, see where to find notaries for affidavits.

07
Return Your Affidavit (If Required)

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You want to be sure to return your affidavit by the sponsor's deadline; if you're late, you'll most likely forfeit your prize.

It's a good idea to send your affidavit by certified mail so that you have proof that you sent it on time.

Some sponsors will also allow you to fax or email them a copy of the affidavit so that they have your information even if the letter is lost.

08
Follow Up with the Sponsor

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Many sweepers have lost prizes because they thought they had safely returned their affidavit, but the sponsor never received it.

If the sponsor doesn't hear back from you, they'll most likely assume you don't qualify or don't want the prize and award it to someone else.

Once the prize has been awarded to another winner, you've generally lost your chance to receive the prize, even if your affidavit was lost in the mail. 

To avoid this painful mistake, call or send the sponsors a letter or an email to verify that they received the affidavit. Make sure you do this before the deadline so that you can resend it if necessary.

09
Watch For Your Win

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Pay attention to when your prize is due to arrive and keep an eye out for its arrival.

It's unfortunately common for prizes to arrive well after their expected date. But if it's been a few weeks past the due date and the prize still hasn't shown up, contact the sponsor to follow up.

There may be a mix-up with your prize, or it might have been lost in the mail.

If a sponsor knows about the problem, they can usually resolve it for you. But if you don't pay attention until long past the prize's due date, you'll miss your chance to let the sponsor know in time.

10
Send a Thank-You Note

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Sending the sponsor a thank-you letter is a nice gesture. It makes the sponsors feel good, and it could encourage them to hold more sweepstakes or to go the extra mile in fulfilling your prize.

In You Can't Win if You Don't Enter, Carolyn Wilman relates how a sponsor included a bunch of extra prizes ​because she was so polite and so excited when she was notified of her prize.

11
How to Handle Surprizes

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The prize claim process usually begins with a win notification... but there is an exception. Surprizes, are sweepstakes prizes that show up in the mail without any previous notice. They may not even have an explanation of where they come from!

Surprizes are usually fun and easy, but in some cases, they can be a cause for concern.

In the United States, sponsors are required by law to declare any prizes worth more than $600 to the IRS. To do so, they need an affidavit before they release the prize.

So if you receive a large check in the mail, chances are good that it's not a surprize, but rather a sweepstakes check scam.

12
Pay Your Taxes

Which Taxes Should You Expect to Pay when you Win Vacation Prizes?
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If you live in the United States, the final step of your winning process, and the only one that you are required to do by law, is paying taxes on the prizes you've received.

It might be disappointing, but U.S. law treats any prize win as income, so you're required to report everything you win. Unlike with gambling winnings, sponsors are not required to withhold any of your winnings.

You are supposed to report all of your winnings, big or small. Don't fall for that old $600 sweepstakes myth, which often confuses people into thinking that they don't have to report prizes worth under $600.

Sponsors are required to send tax forms for prizes worth $600 and more, but you are required to report your prizes regardless of their value.

If you live outside the United States, check your local laws for information about whether you need to pay taxes on prizes and how you do it.