The sweepstakes industry is a multimillion dollar business. Over 90% of American consumers have received a mailing telling them that they have won a prize. Companies use sweepstakes to sell their merchandise. Certain sweepstakes operators have blanketed the public’s mailboxes with deceptive promotions that have bilked many consumers out of thousands of dollars a year.
Many sweepstakes solicitations suggest the prospect of valuable prizes. Almost all consumers never win the major prize. The actual value of any prize a consumer may receive is often minimal, such as $1.00. The odds of winning the advertised large prizes, which may be buried in the mailing in microscopic print, are astronomically small, such as one in 50 million.
The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office receives frequent complaints from citizens about misleading sweepstakes or prize promotions. For example, a 97-year-old Minnesota resident, whose income consisted of primarily Social Security benefits, received countless sweepstakes solicitations in the mail.
She bought over $10,000 of merchandise from a single sweepstakes company and spent almost $30,000 of her life savings on total purchases from sweepstakes companies, all in just three years’ time. She believed that buying products from the company would increase her chances of winning. Like most consumers, she never won anything of value.
One of the best defenses against consumer fraud is an informed consumer. You should know that
1. Businesses engage in sweepstakes offers in order to sell consumers goods or services and to attract consumers’ attention to the products or services they sell.
2. You have not won. Sweepstakes are games of chance. If you enter, your entry will have the same chance to win as every other entry. No one knows the winner until after the sweepstakes ends.
3. Buying will not help you win. Your chances of winning without a purchase are the same as the chances of someone who buys something. It is illegal to give any advantage to buyers in a sweepstakes.
4. The odds of winning are small. The mailing must state the actual odds of winning the prize.
5. Personal information is never required to enter a legitimate contest. Do not give out your credit card number or your bank account number.
6. “Free” should mean free. If you really win a “free” prize, you will get it free with no fees attached. You should not have to order merchandise or pay any money to claim a sweepstakes prize.
7. Do not be deceived by letters that look official or urgent.
8. Read the solicitation carefully, including the fine print.