My Contest and Sweepstakes Hobby – Part 3

If you’ve read my previous two posts on entering contests and sweepstakes, you learned how to prepare for entering and where to find online contests and sweepstakes to enter. Besides the contest and sweepstakes websites I mentioned in my previous post, there are also plenty of opportunities to win via social media.

Have you ever been scrolling through your Facebook feed and noticed a sponsored post offering a chance to win something? When you click on “Sign Up” or “Learn More,” you’ll have the chance to enter the contest. Often, these social media contests and sweepstakes are sponsored by a brand you’ll recognize. If not, I strongly suggest right-clicking on the brand’s page and opening the link in a new tab. From there, you can take a look at the brand’s Facebook page to see if it appears legit. A legitimate brand should have contact information on their Facebook page, including a location, website and phone number. If a brand doesn’t have this information, you may want to refrain from providing your contact information or access to your Facebook profile information.

Instagram is another social media platform whose brands offer contests and sweepstakes. Entering on this platform often entails liking accounts and/or tagging friends in the comments. There may also be a form to capture personal information. Again, be sure to look into the brand and make sure they are reputable before handing over your contact information.

In general, the only information a social media contest should be asking for is information necessary to contact you if you win (i.e. name, address, phone number, email address). Be very leery of brands asking for information that could be used to hack or modify online accounts, such as social security number, last four digits of a credit card number, high school name, mother’s maiden name, etc.

Unless you are entering a raffle that requires a charitable donation, which should be explained up front, you should never be asked to provide a payment or credit card information in order to enter an online or social media contest or sweepstakes. Likewise, you should never be asked for credit card information or any kind of payment if you win a contest or sweepstakes. This is one of the main ways to determine that a “win” is actually a scam. Legitimate online contests and sweepstakes do not require a purchase, and should state in their terms and conditions, “no purchase necessary.” You also should not be asked to participate in any type of timeshare presentation, phone call or Skype call in order to claim a prize.

So what does a legitimate contest win look like? When I win trips or other large prizes, I typically receive a personal email from an individual who works for a promotion or marketing company. This email will state the prize I have won, the contest name, and may ask that I respond within a certain amount of time to confirm that I plan to accept the win. Sometimes the person will attach a tax document, which is used to provide a 1099 form at the end of the year. Wins over $400 are required to be reported as income, and should be added to your income when you prepare your income tax return by providing the 1099 form to your tax professional. I typically remember the contest and having entered it. I can Google the name of the contest or prize online and find it quickly. The sponsoring brand should be mentioned in the email.

A scam “contest win” email will typically have a clickbait subject line, like “You Won an iPhone! Open now.” There won’t be an individual’s name or contact information, and there often won’t even be a brand or sponsoring organization name. There may be a link you are prompted to click and fill in personal information, which can later be used by hackers or sold to additional spammers. It might be a timeshare scam, where you’re told that you’ve “won” a hotel night or two if you attend a timeshare presentation. You may be asked to pay a fee to “claim your winnings.” If you do, you may find your credit card or Paypal account compromised.

It never hurts to do a little bit of verification before providing your personal information for any contest or sweepstakes win. If you’re concerned that your winner email may not be legit, don’t hesitate to do a Google search for the marketing or promotions company mentioned in the email. Call them and ask for the person who contacted you. That way you can verify the win is legitimate and also ask any questions you may have about the win.

Good luck, and tune in next time for information on what to do once you’ve won!


My Contest and Sweepstakes Hobby – Part 1

Many people who know me are familiar with my hobby of entering contests and sweepstakes. I started entering these online giveaways about 15 years ago, and in that time I’ve been fortunate to win many fun and exciting prizes. Since I’m a travel junkie, my favorite prizes are trips, of course. Since 2003, I’ve won trips to California, Iceland, Mexico, France, New York, Florida, Maine and Nashville (that one I gave to my sister!). Besides trips, I’ve won various gift certificates, shopping sprees, gift packages, books, cd’s, dvd’s and other fun stuff, including $5,000 in cash. So how do I win all this stuff? I’ll be walking you through my system in a series of blog posts.

If you decide you want to take up entering contests and sweepstakes as a hobby, the first thing you’ll need to do is to establish a separate email address. You can use any of the free email service providers, such as Gmail, Yahoo, Juno, etc. When you enter online contests and sweepstakes, you’ll receive email communications from many of the companies who sponsor the giveaways. Unless you want to wade through all those marketing messages to check for any important personal emails, having them in a separate account will help you to save time and, depending on the email software you use, classify your incoming mail so you won’t miss a winning notification.

Gmail, for example, allows you to create folders within your inbox. In my Gmail account, I created a folder specifically for Sweepstakes, where I park all the emails advertising new sweepstakes and contests. I’ve also created other folders for things I’d like to save or file away later, like Recipes, Coupons, etc.

You want to be sure to check the email account you use to enter contests and sweepstakes at least every other day. Many contest wins will require that you respond to your notification email within 48 hours. You should also check your spam email folder to be sure you don’t miss a notification. You can mass-delete the other emails, or move only the winning ones and the ones announcing new contests or sweepstakes to another folder.

Once you’ve set up your “sweepstakes-only” email account, you can use it to enter contests and sweepstakes you find online. Finding them will be the focus of my second blog post in this series.