The Attorney General provides Consumer Alerts to inform the public of unfair, misleading, or deceptive business practices, and to provide information and guidance on other issues of concern. Consumer Alerts are not legal advice, legal authority, or a binding legal opinion from the Department of Attorney General.
If you have a mailbox, you have almost certainly received letters with bold headlines like these. These letters are promotions for prize sweepstakes - a kind of advertising that many people find irresistible...and very costly. It is important to keep in mind that companies that use sweepstakes are not in business to give away prizes. They are in business to sell merchandise. Sweepstakes are simply a way to attract your attention to their products or services.
If you decide you want to enter, do not allow enticing dollar signs to obstruct your common sense, remember our top ten sweepstakes tips.
Your chances of winning without a purchase or donation are the same as the chances of someone who buys or donates. It is illegal to give any advantage to a buyer or a donor in a sweepstakes.
Sweepstakes are games of chance. The winner has not been identified. If you enter, your entry will have the same chance to win as every other entry. No one knows who the winner is until after the sweepstakes ends.
There is an entire industry in buying and selling leads on people known to participate in sweepstakes and other direct mail marketing and telemarketing. These leads appear on "sucker" or "mooch" lists. The best way to protect yourself from sweepstakes fraud is to keep your name off the lists. To do this, you will need to limit or stop participating in sweepstakes and contests, and you should not do business over the phone with unknown callers.
One popular way to use the "sucker" lists is to call someone on the list and pretend to be a sweepstakes official. This person then says that the company needs your social security number or your credit card number or bank account number to award the prize. No legitimate contest ever asks for personal information like this.
A popular tactic that some disreputable operations use is to contact you and tell you about a great prize that you've won - but then say that you have to pay a small "handling fee," or "shipping fee" before your prize is delivered. Remember, in a legitimate sweepstakes, a free prize means you pay absolutely nothing, and there are no strings or fees attached.
Another popular tactic the con artists use is to require a pre-payment of taxes. No legitimate company will ever ask you to pay taxes to them to release your prize.
Deceptive marketers often use misleading envelopes that include statements such as "REGISTERED DOCUMENT ENCLOSED," or refer to fines and imprisonment for a person who tampers with the envelope. Some use fictitious senders' names like "The Offices of records of Sweepstakes/Disbursements Division," or suggest that the recipient has won a prize, such as "Confidential CASH AWARD Documents Enclosed" and "OPEN AND RESPOND IMMEDIATELY! $3,000.00 cash award is ready to be sent!"
If you get a call from a telemarketer that involves a sweepstakes or prize promotion, the caller is required to tell you:
Before you enter any sweepstakes, read the rules that the promoter is required to include. Pay attention to the dates when entries are accepted, the odds of winning, and any restrictions on entries. Take note of anything that suggests that you have to buy to enter, or that doing so will increase your odds of winning. Report any sweepstakes offers that have this kind of language in them to the Attorney General.
By law, all sweepstakes offers must include an address or toll-free phone number where anyone, including a caregiver, may direct that their name and address be taken off the sweepstakes firm's mailing list. If the mailings do not stop after you request to have your name removed, file a complaint with the Attorney General.
While there are legitimate, reputable firms that use sweepstakes promotions fairly and honestly, it is important to be able to tell them apart from the disreputable firms who prey on "sucker" lists. If you have any questions about sweepstakes promotions mailings or calls that you receive, you may contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division:
Consumer Protection Division
P.O. Box 30213
Lansing, MI 48909
Toll free: 877-765-8388
Online complaint form