Sweepstakes Fever

April 13, 2013

Sweepstakes Fever

Have you won a Foreign Lottery?  Are hundreds of thousands of dollars waitingfor you to collect as soon as you fill out some paperwork?  Does the person on the other end of a phonecall need your Social Security Number to confirm your identity so that you canget a direct deposit of a million bucks? Sweepstakes Fever has struck Plainview. In the past week, four consumers have presented the Plainview BBB withdozens of mailers with letterhead marked “Prize Promotion Center,” “Cash Award Department,”or “Cash Disbursement Center.”  Often,the envelopes are festooned with eagles, printed on brown-yellow government-ishpaper.  No opportunity to createexcitement is missed and scrolls of congratulations blanket the mailings.


Is Plainview the home of a new class of billionaire?  Sadly, no.


There are legitimate sweepstakes at work year-round.  Publisher’s Clearinghouse and Reader’s Digestare just two such contests.  The nexttime one of those invitations to join a sweepstake lands in your mailbox, spenda few minutes paging through the forms. Somewhere in the mix will be a statement of the odds of you actuallywinning the prize.  Your chances ofcoming away with a major cash award are about the same as getting hit mylightning…twice.  But the chances arethere.  According to Federal Law,sweepstake offers must contain such statistics, and most of them (discouragingas they already are) admit that the steep odds are strongly affected by anotherrandom stat that cannot be accurately predicted: the number of entries.  Someone will win all of the prizes listed inthese legitimate offers.  Your odds areslim and you shouldn’t pick out your Hummer yet, but it’s not a waste of timeto fill out the forms and stick a stamp on the return envelope.  You’ve invested some time and a stamp…not abad investment when you could win millions. (Unless you’re convinced to buy some products, that is. “No business canafford to give away millions of dollars in sweepstakes without the expectationthat a percentage of people receiving the mailer will buy that business’products,” the marketing head of PCH told me years ago.  “The sweepstakes are an exciting way tomarket magazines, that’s all.”  Thepressure to make a purchase goes up with every round you survive in thecontest.)  


The trouble is, not all sweepstake offers that show up inthe mail are legitimate.  Some areoutright scams.  All consumers shouldknow this:  It is against Federal andstate laws to charge any portion of receiving a prize or award.  How many times have you been notified thatsome huge amount of cash is just waiting for you – if you send a twenty-dollar“qualification fee,” or a money order to cover the taxes on your fabulousyacht, or fifty dollars to front the shipping on your solid gold Yogi Bearmug?  No matter what clever term a conman can invent, these charges are lies. It’s a scam.  It’s wrong.  Don’t pay any money (or surrender bankaccount info or credit card numbers) toward winning your “free” prize.  Either it’s a prize or it’s not, and the lawsays you shouldn’t have to pay any part of receiving it.


If I added up all the time I’ve spent in the past 20 yearstrying to convince consumers that they haven’t really won anything from a bogussweepstake, I’d probably have enough hours to take a vacation.  People want to believe that investing $12 ina prize drawing isn’t a bad investment. People want to believe that they’ve beaten the odds.  The think they won a British Lottery even ifthey haven’t left the United States and never entered the contest.  They want the golden ticket and the lifetimesupply of chocolate.  The sad truth ofthings is that very few sweepstakes play by their own rules or the law, andit’s up to you to defend yourself. Anyone who wants you to “pay to play” where a sweepstakes is concernedshould be ignored with extreme prejudice. 


Raffles and lotteries are another matter altogether.  You expect to pay to enter a game ofchance.  Sweepstakes – particularly onesyou’ve already “won,” should come with no financial strings attached.

-- Bob Manista, Plainview Office Manager