Protecting Your Personal InformationSweepstakes are designed to be a lot of fun, for both you the consumer, and the companies hosting them. To participate in them, usually you will need to provide some personal information, such as a name and an e-mail address. Usually for sweepstakes that offer more prizes, you may be asked to also provide your address information, a telephone number, and sometimes a short survey for things you like. This is considered perfectly acceptable. Usually legitimate companies will ask for this information - because they hope that by offering a sweepstakes, you may become familiar with their products or services, and at sometime in the future either you or a friend of yours will make a purchase, thereby offsetting the cost of the sweepstakes.
However - when visiting a sweepstakes entry form for a chance to win a prize - you should never be asked for a credit card number or a social security number. If you are ever asked for this information, look elsewhere - because the site may be a scam, and attempt to make fraudulent purchases on your credit card. Nowadays - it is much harder to do so - but it could still happen.
Here's how to recognize legitimate websites/sweepstakes entry forms, how to protect your information if you want to be extra cautious, but still have a chance at winning prizes, and what to do if anything ever did happen.
How to Recognize Legitimate Sweepstakes Sites
Most 'legitimate' sweepstakes will have all of the following characteristics. If they are missing one or more of these items, you may wish to think twice about whether to enter them. It may still be perfectly safe, just use your best judgement. Legitimate sweepstakes entry forms tend to:
- Look Professional. If it doesn't look professional, it may still be legitimate, but it may just be run by a much smaller company, or an individual.
- Have the official rules listed. Every sweepstakes entry form should have the rules. It should list the time frame for entry, eligibility requirements, and the types of prizes being offered. If it it missing any of this information, it may be a smaller company, or not legitimate.
- Only ask for a name/address/phone/e-mail when entering. While of course legitimate companies may ask for you to purchase a product after you enter a sweepstakes - you should never be asked for a credit card number or social security number as a condition of entering the sweepstakes. If you are - look elsewhere, because it may not be a legitimate entry form.
How to Protect your Personal Information
While most companies will respect your personal information, and only contact you periodically, a small number of companies or individuals may unfortunately start to 'spam' you with 'buy now' type of information. Here are steps you can take to protect your private information - but still give you a chance at winning amazing prizes.
- Use an e-mail address specifically devoted for entering sweepstakes. I recommend reading newsletters sponsors provide - because they are giving you a chance to win something for nothing - and it's just good karma. However - if you get a sponsor that starts to spam you with e-mails every single day - while most will honor 'unsubscribe' requests - some may not. If this happens, then having a 'disposable' e-mail address makes it easy to change, without affecting your primary e-mail address that you use to communicate with friends and family.
- Modify your entry name slightly Add an extra initial to your name, so if your name is Jim McPherson, you might add a 'b' to make it 'Jim B McPherson'. That way - if you do start getting a lot of unsolicited mail, you can easily identify where it came from.
- Get a mailbox If you enter a LOT of sweepstakes, (i.e., > 500/day) - getting a separate mailbox can also be a good idea. You can use this as your 'sweepstakes only' mailbox, so it is easy to separate your personal e-mail from sweepstakes mail.