How do I know if I am really a contest winner?

May 24, 2019

Dear Consumer Ed: 

After filling out a feedback form about a fast food restaurant, I received a call saying that I had won a contest. I was asked to provide a faxed form, signed and notarized, along with my Social Security number for tax purposes. Does that sound legitimate?

Consumer Ed says:

You should always proceed with an abundance of caution whenever people ask you for your Social Security Number (“SSN”). You should respond by asking why they need it, how it will be used, how they will protect it, and what will happen if you don’t share your SSN. Even if you know you registered at the business and the caller confirms that he or she works for the business, you should hang up and call the business directly to confirm that the call is legitimate. Do not call the number provided by the caller or the number that shows up in your caller ID; instead, look up the phone number of the business yourself and call that number.

Legitimate contests and sweepstakes require your SSN if you win $600 or more because they are required by law to provide that information to the IRS. The contest’s official rules should list the requirements for accepting the prize, the forms you will have to fill out, and how your information will be used. Also note that while contests and sweepstakes may require your SSN if you are a winner, a legitimate contest will never require you to provide your SSN just for entering.   

If you are worried that the contest is a scam, look for the following warning signs of contest and sweepstakes scams:

  1. You have to pay to receive your prize. Legitimate sweepstakes do not make you pay taxes, shipping and handling charges, or processing fees to get your prize, and they will not ask you to provide your checking account number or credit card number.
     
  2. You have to wire money. Legitimate sweepstakes will not ask you to wire money or put money on a prepaid debit card to “insure” delivery of your prize.
     
  3. You have to deposit a check they’ve sent to you, then wire a portion of the money back. This is a scam! The check will turn out to be fake, and you will be left owing the bank the money you wired to the scammer.
     
  4. If you do not remember entering a contest, then the “prize” is most likely fake.

Submit your own question to Consumer Ed.  Remember…we do not give legal advice. Always consult a lawyer about legal issues.