Collecting your sweepstakes prize should cost you nothing


...or could cost you plenty!

Every day, thousands of Americans receive sweepstakes offers, but not all of them are legitimate. How can you tell the difference between a real sweepstakes and a scam?

Legitimate sweepstakes are fun and free. They specify that no purchase is needed to win and buying a product will not increase your chances of winning--you never have to pay to collect a prize. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), and the Postal Service's Office of Consumer Advocate are sponsoring this consumer-awareness campaign to point out the characteristics of fraudulent promotions and help limit the number of victims of these scams.

Remember: You do not have to pay to enter a sweepstakes or collect a prize. If you're asked to pay, the sweepstakes is a scam.

Postal Inspectors suggest you ask yourself these questions to prevent being scammed:

  • Does the promoter ask for your credit card number, checking account number, bank account information, or other personal account information? A legitimate prize company won't ask for this to declare you a winner.
  • Do they ask you to wire money or make a payment in an urgent manner? Do you feel pressure to make a payment within a given time deadline to collect your prize? Take a step back and evaluate the offer. Contact a Postal Inspector to verify that you're dealing with a legitimate sweepstakes offer.
  • Does the advertising copy clearly state that no purchase is necessary to win and a purchase will not increase your chances of winning? You never have to pay to play or to collect your prize when the sweepstakes is legitimate.

Fraud is one of the few crimes in which victims can decline to participate--if they recognize the warning signs. That's why the U.S. Postal Inspection Service regards consumer education as one of its top weapons in fighting fraudsters.

Postal Inspectors work to protect postal customers from misuse of the mail. Inspectors place special emphasis on mail fraud scams related to sweepstakes, advance fees, boiler rooms, health care, insurance, investments, deceptive mailings and other consumer schemes, especially when they target older Americans or other susceptible groups. Postal Inspectors responded to more than 82,000 mail fraud complaints in 2004. This year they've already responded to more than 53,000 complaints.

Postal Inspectors began an investigation earlier this year after receiving hundreds of complaints from people across the country about a solicitation congratulating them on winning a sweepstakes prize. Over 10 million notifications were mailed out. The problem was, "winners" had to send a fee of $20 to $25 for "processing costs" to collect their prize. No legitimate sweepstakes offer makes you pay to collect a prize. In this case, there was no prize. Inspectors are considering criminal charges or civil penalties of up to $1 million for this scam, which involves various company names and more than 50 different solicitations.

Got questions? These U.S. Postal Inspection Service publications have more information:

Publication 546, Sweepstakes Advertising text-only version

Publication 300-A, Consumer & Business Guide to Preventing Mail Fraud text-only version

Publicacion 300-A-S, Guia del Consumidor y Comercial para la Prevencion del Fraude Postal o solamente texto

Publication 281, Consumer Fraud by Phone or Mail text-only version

You can also read the news release about sweepstakes fraud, o aprenda más en español. solamente texto

About The U.S. Postal Inspection Service
The mission of the Postal Inspection Service is to protect the U.S. Postal Service, its employees and its customers from criminal attack, and protect the nation's mail system from criminal misuse. Postal Inspectors investigate any crime in which the mail is used to further a scheme--whether it originated in the mail, by telephone, or on the Internet. The use of the mail is what makes it mail fraud. If you feel you've been victimized in a scheme that involves the U.S. Mail, submit a Mail Fraud Complaint Form online to the Postal Inspection Service.

About The DMA
The Direct Marketing Association is the leading trade association for businesses and organizations interested in direct, interactive, and database marketing, which in 2004 generated more than $2.3 trillion in US sales, including $143.3 billion in catalog sales and $52.5 billion in Web-driven sales. In addition to catalogs and the Web, DMA members employ a wide variety of marketing media, including mail, e-mail, telephone, newspapers and magazines, interactive television, and radio, among others. The DMA's membership represents marketers from every business segment, including catalogers, Internet retailers, retail stores, nonprofit organizations, advertising agencies, financial services providers, book and magazine publishers, book and music clubs, industrial manufacturers, and a host of other vertical segments, as well as the service industries that support marketers.

About the Office of The Consumer Advocate
The Consumer Advocate and the Consumer Affairs function of the U.S. Postal Service is to listen to the voice of the customer and amplify the message to postal managers. Data gathered through independent measurement systems and internal contacts provide a barometer of customer satisfaction and guide postal managers in actions needed to improve operating and service performance. Through proactive external messaging, the Office of the Consumer Advocate also channels information from the Postal Service to customers on postal policy and procedures and on ways to get the most from their Post Office.

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