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Sweepstakes scams: Awareness and prevention for consumers

Jerard Alonzo Profile Picture

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Renzo A.

Date Post

Feb 15, 2024

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Over the last few years, sweepstakes have expanded all over the online world, bringing new ways for enthusiasts to enjoy their favorite prizes. As you already know, sweepstake contests allow you to tap into a wide range of promotions, lotteries, and advertising deals to win valuable prizes by chance without an entry fee or purchase.

Because of that, sweepstakes are widely known as an effective way to increase brand presence online and improve lead generation by attracting more clients. Unfortunately, sweepstakes promotions aren’t risk-free and are prone to various scams.

Recently, scammers and fraudsters have found new ways to trick customers into believing them with their private data and hard-earned cash. Since they don’t follow ethical or legal guidelines, they will scam gullible customers by either phishing, impersonating, or cheating them.

Fraudsters often create misleading or fake sweepstakes casinos to lure potential victims. With that in mind, let’s discuss common tactics scammers use, red flags, real-life scenarios, prevention strategies, and more.

Understanding sweepstakes scams

So, what constitutes a sweepstakes scam?

Some new sweepstakes casinos bring participants a promise of huge casino bonuses and winning valuable items, usually money prizes. In most situations, businesses run these sweepstakes as part of advertising and marketing promotions.

Typically, sweepstakes are free to enter, though there are scenarios where a customer must partake by purchasing merchandise. Companies use various methods to select random winners in legal and fair contests. However, these contests are like a dream come true for scammers.

Con artists will resort to every trick in existence to trick customers into believing they’ve won huge prizes in fake contests. They will try to get their hands on any valuable material from you, including your identity, personal information, and money.

Typically, their tactics are simple. They launch a fake contest to trick customers into partaking and use the opportunity to ask them for cash and private intel, claiming it’s necessary to give them their prizes.

Common sweepstakes scam tactics fraudsters use

The most common tactics scammers use include:

  • Email phishing – scammers send unsolicited emails to trick potential customers into believing they won a big prize. In this scam, fraudsters will impersonate a reputable sweepstakes agency, company, or government service. These emails come from free accounts and fake domains and will soon ask you for private data and money.
  • Direct mailings – you may receive physical mailings to your address with fake checks and forged signatures and logos, asking you for private information or money while referring to a phony agency. Con artists typically use bulk mail to carry out their scams, while legit deals typically arrive by first-class mail. 
  • Social media messages – direct messaging over TikTok, Instagram, or Facebook is a popular way to launch large-scale sweepstakes scam attacks on unsuspecting target audiences. Typically, scammers will message you, claiming that you won a giveaway. Before you know it, they’ll ask for private data, financial credentials, or money.
  • Website pop-up ads – malicious ads can easily redirect you to fake websites and expose you to phishing scams. Fraudsters use these ads to lure you into fraud by claiming you’ve won a prize. However, when you land on a website to claim your prize, scammers will ask for your personal data, money, etc.
  • WhatsApp, text, or SMS messages – fraudsters send fake messages to trick customers into filling out web forms to claim their prizes. However, these forms are phishing websites that are out for private information and financial data, such as your passwords for your PayPal account, online banking, etc.

These tactics are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many more out there, such as fake phone call scams and social media profiles. You can protect yourself by learning to recognize red flags and warning signs.

Red flags and warning signs

You can avoid risks and ordeals by recognizing red flags and warning signs. These can help you determine whether you’re the target of a sweepstakes scam. When you receive a notification or message regarding winning sweepstakes, go through it carefully and thoroughly. That should help you spot any red flags and avoid a scam.

You never signed up for or entered the sweepstakes

You can’t win a sweepstakes contest if you’ve never entered one. Legitimate promotions will keep all conditions and terms for winning the prize transparent. If you receive an email or direct mail about a contest you never signed up for, it’s a sure sign of a scam.

Asking for advanced payment to claim the prize

One of the most obvious warning signs of a sweepstakes scam is a letter or email informing you that you must make a payment or pay a fee to claim your winnings.

Scammers will ask you for payment via a debit and prepaid gift card, an immediate money transfer, a Bitcoin ATM, or a wire transfer. Legitimate sweepstakes contests won’t ask for a payment to release your prizes.

Generic information

If you receive a letter or email addressing you as anything other than your name, it’s a clear red flag and a warning sign. Legitimate contests require your private info to allow you to enter a sweepstakes, such as your name, address, email, and phone number.

Dubious or unsolicited checks

If you receive an unknown check for an outstanding amount of money in the mail, stay alert. A fake check scheme is a common scam tricksters use to ask you to transfer a portion of money from the check to an unknown receiver after cashing it in. Since the check is fake, you can face trouble with your bank, the law, etc.

Real-Life scenarios

Here are a few anecdotal examples of real-life sweepstakes scams to help you understand what you’re dealing with:

  • A Tazewell man received a scam call that informed him he had won a sweepstake contest. The call caused the man to lose $4,000.
  • A 70-year-old Mary received a letter from American Sweepstakes informing her she’d won millions of dollars. All she needed to do was call a man named Robert Carson to claim her winnings. When she contacted Robert, he informed her that she needed to pay $25,000 in taxes to obtain the prize. As it turned out later, the scheme was linked to a Jamaican gang crew that tricked over 90 victims, including Mary.

Prevention strategies

Here’s practical advice on how to avoid falling victim to these scams, including steps to verify legitimacy and secure personal information:

  • If you’ve received a congratulations letter or entry form by bulk mail, inspect the mail and ask around the neighborhood to see if other people got the same mailing.
  • Immediately hang up on unexpected calls claiming to be from popular sweepstakes agencies like the Publishers Clearing House of the Mega Millions lottery.
  • Thoroughly inspect the fine print of an entry form and look for legally required information, such as legal disclaimers, prize descriptions, entry methods, dates, etc. If this information is missing, it’s a scam.
  • If a contest doesn’t disclose the winning odds, it’s probably a fraud.
  • If a contest asks for your money and private and financial information out of the blue, it’s a clear sign of a scam.
  • If you receive a partial-payment check and a request to deposit a portion of your winnings to claim the prize, something is fishy.
  • Any call from a number with a 284, 809, or 876 area code should be treated as a potential threat, especially the ones claiming to call you regarding a prize.

Reporting and recovery

If you suspect you are targeted by a sweepstakes scam, here’s what to do:

  • Visit https://www.westernunion.com/fraudawareness to educate yourself on different types of scams and learn how to avoid them;
  • If you’ve already been a victim of a scam involving Western Union payments, contact Western Union’s Fraud Hotline to report a fraud and receive mitigation instructions;
  • Tap into detailed studies and online reports of common sweepstakes scams by visiting the FTC’s Complaint Assistant;
  • For foreign scams, contact the International Consumer Protection Enforcement Network to report a sweepstakes fraud from abroad;
  • If you receive a call from the Publishers Clearing House, notify them to report the scam at 800-392-4190;
  • Report any suspicious activity, fraud, or scams to the Better Business Bureau or the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Conclusion

In the wake of internet expansion, the digital world can be pretty dangerous. Hence, it is crucial to be vigilant and aware, protecting your identity, private information, and property against sweepstakes scams.

The current digital landscape can expose ordinary internet users to various scams and cyber threats, such as malware attacks, data theft, ID theft, impersonation, etc. Scammers rely on human nature to exploit your emotions and trick you into believing you’ve won a mind-bending prize.

If something sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is. Hopefully, this guide will help you educate yourself on the extent and variety of sweepstakes scams, the methods fraudsters use, and the best protective strategies for safeguarding personal information and avoiding risky behaviors.

Jerard Alonzo Profile Picture

The Author

Jerard Alonzo Profile Picture

Renzo A.

the author

Renzo is one of the newest additions to the crew. With a extensive background in data gathering and with valuable insights on casinos, he's your go to person for questions about the iGaming industry. He's worked hard to develop his skill for discovering trends as well as crafting well put together reviews. In his spare time, Renzo is a crypto enthusiast/trader who like to explore the exciting and endless possibilities of blockchain technology.

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