Consumer Protection
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How to Protect Yourself: Sweepstakes
Source: The Florida Attorney General's Office


If you receive a letter or phone call telling you that you have won a substantial cash award or other fantastic prize, be extremely cautious. The likelihood is great that you have won nothing of any value and are merely the victim of a slick merchandising trick designed to induce you to purchase the company's products.

Don't Pay To Win
Legitimate sweepstakes do not require you to pay anything to receive the prize you have won. If you are told that you must pre-pay taxes, you are probably being scammed. Taxes can either be withheld from a cash award or, more commonly, are reported by the company to the IRS and you declare the prize as part of your annual tax return. You should never have to pre-pay them. Phrases like "shipping and handling charges" and "processing fees" that the company says must be paid prior to delivery of your prize are clear warning signs that the offer is not a legitimate one. Legitimate sweepstakes companies pay the cost of delivery for the prizes they award.

Question Prize Descriptions
That "1998 model car" you are told you have just won for a delivery charge of $29.95 is probably a scale model car that will fit nicely into the bottom of your children's toy box. Be skeptical of descriptions such as "regulation pool table" and "precious gemstones". Often these and similar terms are designed to deceive you as to the size, quality and value of the product you have supposedly won. Ask questions and demand detailed descriptions of the prize you are being offered.

Suspect Official Appearing Documents
Legitimate sweepstakes companies do not attempt to mislead you about who they are. If you receive a sweepstakes offering in the mail that gives the appearance of being from a government agency or government sponsored or approved, be suspicious immediately. Similarly, if the mailing or telephone solicitation suggests to you that you must respond immediately and cannot take time to consider or investigate the offering, you are probably being deceived.

Don't Give Your Credit Card Numbers
Legitimate sweepstakes companies have no need for your credit card numbers. If a company says they need your credit card information "to secure your prize" or "for verification", there is an excellent chance that this information is really being sought for another purpose that will cost you money.

Investigate The Company
Be sure that the company you are dealing with has a good track record in the business community. Verify their name and address. A company whose only address is a post office box or other mail drop should be dealt with cautiously. Do your homework by contacting the Better Business Bureau in your community and in the community where the business is located. Also, check with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, by calling them at 1-800-HELP-FLA or by visiting their website at www.800helpfla.com or by contacting the Federal Trade Commission as well as your local county consumer service agencies. If you are dealing with a company whose offices are outside the State of Florida, you should also check with the Attorney General's Office and state consumer agencies in that state. Finally, you should also check up on any company who makes a sweepstakes offer and with which you are considering doing business by contacting the National Fraud Information Center at (800) 876-7060.