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How can you tell if a sweepstakes are real?

With the rise of online sweepstakes and giveaways, it can be hard to tell which ones are legitimate and which are scams. There are a few key things you can look for to help determine if a sweepstakes is real or fake.

Check for official rules and terms

Legitimate sweepstakes are required by law to have official rules and terms and conditions that spell out how the sweepstakes works. These rules will give you all the pertinent details, including:

  • Sponsor name and contact information
  • Entry requirements and restrictions
  • Start and end dates for the sweepstakes
  • Prize details, including number of prizes and ARV (approximate retail value) of all prizes
  • How winners will be selected and notified
  • Eligibility requirements
  • Taxes and responsibilities of winner
  • Release of liability and publicity permissions

If a sweepstakes doesn’t readily provide official rules, that’s a red flag that it may not be legitimate.

Research the sponsoring brand

Take some time to research the company, brand or organization sponsoring the sweepstakes. Search online for the website and social media pages. A legitimate sponsor will have an established web presence. Be wary of sweepstakes run by brands you can’t find evidence of online.

You can also check for complaints against the company with the Better Business Bureau and Federal Trade Commission.

Look for trusted third-party logos

Many legitimate sweepstakes will display trust marks and logos from third-party organizations that have verified them. Some examples include:

  • BBB – Better Business Bureau
  • Shorty Awards
  • DRA – Direct Response Award
  • DAMA – Direct & Digital Marketing Association

While logos don’t guarantee legitimacy, they do provide added assurance that the sweepstakes has gone through some vetting.

Enter at no cost

You should never have to pay money to enter a sweepstakes. Legit sweepstakes are free to enter, providing an official method of entry that doesn’t require any kind of purchase or fee. Watch for language promising improved odds or special treatment if you pay a fee—those are scams.

Avoid phone entries

Most legitimate sweepstakes will have an online method of entry. Requiring phone entry should raise suspicion, since that’s often a tactic used in scam sweepstakes to get your personal information and even sign you up for products/services without consent.

Don’t pay to claim a prize

If you’re contacted to claim a prize but then asked for an upfront payment to cover taxes or fees, do not pay it. Legitimate sweepstakes sponsors pay those costs themselves and you won’t need to put out any money to claim a prize.

Be wary of “You’re a winner” claims

Scammers will often claim you won a prize in a sweepstakes you never even entered. And they’ll say you need to confirm your personal details to verify eligibility and claim the prize. Real sweepstakes won’t declare you a winner out of the blue. Be very wary anytime you’re contacted saying you won a contest you have no memory of entering.

Watch for poor spelling and grammar

Typos, grammar mistakes and awkward phrasing are common red flags with scam sweepstakes. Legitimate brands put effort into polished, professional communications. Be skeptical of sloppy sweepstakes advertisements and prize notifications riddled with errors.

Look for privacy policies

For any legitimate sweepstakes operated online, the website should have a posted privacy policy explaining how they handle your personal information. Scam sites often won’t have one since they plan to misuse your data.

Cross-check the email address

When contacted about winning a prize, take a close look at the email address it came from. Scammers will often use addresses designed to look like real companies. You can copy the address into a search engine to see if that domain actually matches the sponsoring brand.

Too good to be true prizes

If the sweepstakes prizes seem too extravagant to be real, like a luxury sports car or $5 million check, that may be a red flag. Legitimate sweepstakes tend to have reasonable prizes with ARV commensurate to the sponsoring brand.

Government affiliation

Scammers sometimes claim to be affiliated with government lottery or sweepstakes programs. Just remember there are no official federal government sweepstakes in the United States. So be very wary of a supposed government department reaching out about prize winnings.

How long you must keep playing

Some scam online sweepstakes keep you on the hook by declaring you the winner only after many rounds of playing games or spinning prize wheels. Legit sweepstakes won’t make you jump through endless hoops to get the prize.

Research online reviews

Check online reviews from real people to see if there are widespread complaints about a sweepstakes being a scam. You’ll often find discussion forums and social media posts exposing shady contests and promoters.

Trust your gut

If a sweepstakes just seems off or too good to be true, listen to your instincts. Many people report having a bad feeling about scams that later proved too convincing to ignore. Go with your gut if something feels shady.

Look for accountability

Legitimate sweepstakes always have someone accountable. Make sure sponsor contact info is readily available and you can easily reach out with any questions or concerns. With scams, you’ll find it hard to ever connect with a real person.

Check Facebook reviews

For sweepstakes promoted on Facebook, check the host page for reviews. Scam contests often get called out publicly. But beware fake reviews too. Focus on detailed 1-star reviews likely from real people.

Research the website registration

Run a “Whois” search on the sweepstakes website domain to see when it was registered and other details. Scam sites are often registered very recently and for short periods of time. A recently registered domain should be a warning sign.

BBB scam alerts

Check the Better Business Bureau website for scam alerts related to sweepstakes. You can search by specific business name or at the main page for the latest identified sweepstakes scams. This can reveal known shady operations.

Ask detailed questions

Contact the sweepstakes sponsor directly with detailed questions about how it operates, the sponsoring brand, prize logistics and more. Scammers likely won’t have the knowledge or resources to respond adequately.

Avoid disclosing personal details

Never offer up sensitive personal information like credit card or Social Security numbers to unknown sweepstakes operators. Scammers will glean what they can to commit identity theft.

Check domain registration details

Research the domain registration details for the sweepstakes website using a tool like Scam sites are often registered anonymously or for short periods of time.

Look for secure checkout

If it’s a retail sweepstakes requiring a purchase, only enter through a secure checkout on a verified retailer website. Unsecure third-party checkout pages are a giveaway it’s likely a scam.

Signs it’s Likely Legitimate Signs it’s Likely a Scam
Detailed official rules Vague details
Reputable sponsor brand Unknown or shady sponsor
Free to enter Requests payment or donation
Online entry Phone entry required
Reasonable prizes Outlandish or excessive prizes
Secure website Unsecure site
Third-party trust seals No trust verification
No purchase required Requires purchase to enter
No fees to claim prize Fees charged to claim prize
Accountable sponsor No way to contact sponsor
Recent positive reviews Recent negative reviews

Avoid entering foreign lotteries and sweepstakes

International lottery scams from places like Canada and Australia are common online. U.S. residents should avoid entering foreign lottery drawings or sweepstakes located outside the country.

Watch for urgent calls to action

Scam sweepstakes use aggressive tactics urging you to act now for bonus entries or a better chance to win. High-pressure tactics are a tactic to cover up the lack of legit details.

Try to locate a physical address

Many scams list only email addresses and phone numbers. Search online to try to find a physical address and location for the sweepstakes sponsor. Virtual offices should raise suspicions.

Check state registration

Most states require official registration and bonding for sweepstakes open to their residents. Check with your state government for registration details.

Call to confirm prize

If notified you won a prize, call the official sweepstakes phone number listed in the rules to confirm. Scammers will give you the run around when you try calling.

Avoid disclosing financial details

Never give out credit cards, bank accounts or other financial details to collect supposed sweepstakes winnings. Real sponsors won’t require this info upfront.

Look up the company

Search the name of any sponsoring brand plus words like “scam” or “complaint” to uncover negative reports tied to the company or sweepstakes.

Check social media

Research Facebook, Twitter and other social accounts associated with the sweepstakes sponsor. Scams rarely have an established social media presence.

Beware “You’re guaranteed to win!”

No legitimate sweepstakes can guarantee you’ll definitely win. Declaring everyone’s a winner is a common sweepstakes scam tactic on websites and mailings.

Avoid disclosing passwords or PINs

Scammers may try to gain access to financial accounts by requesting passwords or PIN numbers to “confirm eligibility.” Never share this sensitive information.

Look up the physical address

Use Google Maps to view the street address listed for the company. Fake addresses and virtual offices are red flags of a potential scam.

Verify sponsorship

If the sweepstakes claims to be sponsored by a particular brand or company, call them directly to verify they are actually running it.

Research affiliate marketers

If the sweepstakes company seems unfamiliar, look into who they are affiliated with. Shady affiliate marketers are common with sweepstakes scams.

Avoid entering on social media

Sweepstakes advertised only through platforms like Facebook and Instagram are risky. It’s safer to enter contests through legitimate brand websites.

Check Contact page on website

The website should have a Contact Us page with phone, email and physical address listed. Be suspicious if that page is missing or has limited info.

Ask for written confirmation

When notified of winning a prize, request official written confirmation by mail. Scammers will hesitate or refuse to provide documentation.

Look up domain age

Use Whois tools to see when the sweepstakes domain was registered. Newly registered domains in the current year can signal a scam.

Search publisher background

If the website lists a specific publisher or advertiser, research their reputation online for any negative info or scam reports.

Avoid wire transfers to collect winnings

Never wire money to any company to collect sweepstakes winnings. Wiring money is the same as sending cash and leaves you no recourse for getting it back.

Check URL spelling

Scammers sometimes use slightly misspelled URLs to mimic real companies. Watch for odd spellings and extra characters.

Look up domain registrant

Domain lookup tools list the name and address tied to a website domain registration. Watch for vague corporate registrations and PO boxes.


Entering online sweepstakes can be fun as long as you follow some key tips to spot and avoid scams. Take time to thoroughly research sponsors, look for warning signs and get assurances before providing personal information or attempting to claim a prize. Protecting your identity and finances requires being fully confident a sweepstakes is run by a legitimate company you can trust.