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Don't fall victim to bogus prize promotions
As a consumer, it's a sure bet you've been the target of phone solicitations, mass mailings, and promotions inviting you to participate in big money sweepstakes. Studies show that a majority of American adults have entered a sweepstakes at one time or another, and over 90 percent of American adults have received at least one mailing informing them that they have won "free prizes."
Many such solicitations, though perhaps annoying, are perfectly legitimate. They're sponsored by reputable marketers and nonprofit organizations who are seeking your business or support. Some prize promoters, however, are con artists who want to make a quick buck without providing legitimate goods or services. You don't get "the big prize"; you get bilked.
How can you tell the difference between a legitimate contest and a sweepstakes scam? What steps can you take to protect yourself from bogus promotions? Here are a few pointers.
* If you're required to pay, don't play. Legitimate sweepstakes and promotions don't require you to spend money or otherwise buy something to enter, increase your chances of winning, or claim your prize. Also beware of companies asking you to pay taxes, shipping charges, or other fees.
* How was the notification mailed? A few lucky people have won millions of dollars and valuable goods by participating in sweepstakes. Those winners weren't contacted via bulk mailings. Check the postmark on the envelope or postcard. Are you just one of millions who received the same "big prize" notification?
* Read the fine print. Are you required to attend a sales meeting to get your prize? What are your realistic chances of winning? If it's a skill contest, how many rounds must you successfully complete to win the grand prize? What's the time frame for naming the winner?
* Who's sponsoring the sweepstakes? Legitimate contest sponsors identify themselves clearly and prominently. Fraudsters are more likely to hide their identities. Some even use a variant of a recognized company name to trick consumers. Also be aware that it's illegal for a company to promote a sweepstakes by claiming affiliation with or endorsement by a government agency.
If you think you've been the victim of a fraudulent sweepstakes promotion, your local Better Business Bureau or state consumer protection office can help. Not sure if a promotion is legitimate? Give us a call.