Consumer Column

Am I Really a Winner? How to Detect Sweepstakes Fraud
“Congratulations! You’ve just won an all-expense paid trip to Hawaii!”
“You’re the big winner of our grand prize---$20,000!”

Chances are you’ve received a letter or phone call with a message similar to these. Scam artists use these types of tactics to persuade consumers to send money, buy products or contribute to phony charities. Consumers who fall for these false promises often end up with no prize at all.

To protect yourself from falling victim to a phony sweepstakes scam, the Federal Trade Commission recommends the following:

• Legitimate sweepstakes don’t require you to pay or buy something to enter the sweepstakes or improve your chances of winning, or to pay “taxes” or “shipping and handling” to get your prize. Remember, if you’ve truly won a prize you don’t have to pay to receive it.

• Sponsors of legitimate contests identify themselves. They provide you with an address or toll-free phone number so you can ask questions or have your name removed from their mailing lists. A phony promoter is less likely to provide you with contact information.

• Legitimate offers clearly disclose the terms and conditions of the promotion, including rules, entry procedures, and usually, the odds of winning.

• If you have truly won a big prize it is unlikely your winning notification will be sent bulk mail. Check the postmark on the envelope.

• Phony contest promoters often encourage consumers to send a “processing fee” to claim their prize.

• Watch out for copycats. Phony promoters will often use a variation of an official or nationally recognized name to give you confidence in their offers.

• Carefully read any solicitation you receive and pay attention to the fine print.

• If you agree to attend a sales meeting just to win an “expensive” prize, you will likely be subjected to high-pressure sales tactics.

• Never disclose your personal information—bank account or credit card account numbers—in response to a sweepstakes promotion.

If you believe you have been the victim of a sweepstakes scam, please contact the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office at 800-351-4889 or You should also contact the Federal Trade Commission at or 877-382-4357. If you receive the promotion through the mail you should contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 888-877-7644 or

Coming soon, the attorney's general office seeks to provide a mechanism by which to take online payments for collections.