We receive a lot of questions on whether we think certain online sweepstakes are legitimate. We usually use the following indicators to decide whether or not to enter certain online sweepstakes.
The first thing we look for is a set of official rules. If the Web site doesn't contain a set of official rules, then we consider the promotion to be suspect. We also look at the professionalism of the site. If there are misspellings or an unprofessional look and feel to the site, we probably won't enter. Many small businesses or home businesses that create their own Web site sponsor some great sweepstakes, though, so be sure to look at the whole picture. If the Web site lists previous winners, that's a good indicator that the sponsor is legitimate.
If you do enter an online sweepstakes and receive a win notice, be sure to read your win notice carefully. Does it state outright that you won the prize? Or does it state that you must fill out an additional form for a chance to win?
There are a few vacation prizes that have been suspect lately. Cruises may require you to pay an upfront fee, which means you really didn't win anything, or you may be asked to give out more information than you usually would, such as your social security number or credit card number. We believe that most promotions online are safe to enter, however, there have been a few that we thought were schemes for you to purchase a promotional package. Fortunately, these Web sites don't stay around too long.
Use your best judgment, though. Don't just go to the entry form and arbitrarily start entering your information. Look at the main Web site and see where you are and what the company is representing.