I ’ve written about my hobby of entering sweepstakes before, and like any worthwhile endeavor, there is always a downside. One of these, unfortunately, is the massive amounts of new email you will receive as you sign up for newsletters and give out your contact info for prize notification. While fake prize emails can be sent to anyone, those who enter giveaways seem to be even more prone to receiving them. And while most of my newly sweeping friends have a bit of a learning curve in identifying the fakes from the real thing, they eventually master these six red flags that something isn ’t right. (See also: Sweeping 101)
1. You Don ’t Remember Entering
Even with the thousands upon thousands of sweepstakes I ’ve entered over the past 14 years, I have a mild recollection of most of them. If I were to receive an email saying that I won dinners for a year from a local eatery, it would ring a bell, and I ’d likely get excited. If some random company tells me that I won a questionable amount of cash in a promotion I don ’t remember, however, I would take a minute to examine it more carefully.
Not sure if you entered or not? Google the promotion name, company, and prize to see what you find. Most likely, if it is a legit sweep, it was listed on several sites that prize winners frequent.
2. The Company Is Huge
While Pepsi, Yahoo, and Google do hold many giveaways, they rarely handle their own correspondence. If you get an email from Yahoo itself claiming to have picked your name to get a free iPad, for example, see 1) if you remember entering and 2) if the email is signed by a fulfillment company. If the email is signed by a PR company, it ’s more likely real than if it ’s signed by Pepsi ’s CEO.
Again, you can Google to get the info for the company that is handling prize fulfillment for the sweepstakes you are wondering about. Major sweepstakes are most often done by major companies that only do sweepstakes drawing, notification, and awarding.
3. The Word “Lotto” Is Ever Used
Seriously, do you even play the lottery? If you get an email from a foreign country with the happy announcement that you have “lotto” prizes, it ’s not legit. Lottery takes money to play, and as far as I know, they never notify people via an ambiguous email.
Other sneaky terms to beware of include “grant award” and any mention of an international fund.
4. The Email Went Out to Everyone
Check the “to” field in your email. Do you find your email alongside a dozen or more other email addresses within the same alphabetical range as yours? Bad news — you ’re on a spam email list. Someone is desperately sending this same email out to thousands of unsuspecting email account holders hoping someone will bite. Delete this one without question.
Whatever you do, do NOT reply or attempt to unsubscribe to any email that has dozens of addresses. This will only confirm to the spammer that the email is valid, encouraging them to send even more junk your way.
5. Hyperlinks Are Fishy
Most fake emails trying to access your info (also known as phishing emails) will try to get you to either click on a link within the body of the email, or reply to a particular email. The destination, at first glance, may seem legit (“Please check out xyzcompany to get your prize!”). By placing your mouse over the hyperlink and NOT clicking on it, however, you can see where the link is directed to go to. If this is anything but the address in the email, RUN! These are clever rouses designed to get you to sites you would never visit. Don ’t do them the honor.
Do a quick link check of all URLs in the body and at the bottom of the email. PayPal scams, for example, often look a lot like an official PayPal email, but the hyperlinks within the text all direct to scam sites designed to get your sensitive information.
6. You Were Asked to Send Money
This one is quick and easy to master. Don ’t pay shipping fees, processing fees, or award fees for your prize. A prize is a prize, after all, not something you ordered.
Beware of anyone claiming that you have to pay taxes upfront for any prize. The IRS handles income tax, your local treasurer handles motor vehicle and boat taxes. Let them do their jobs, and leave the scammers wishing you weren ’t so smart.