Thursday, November 22, 2012

How to Enter Sweepstakes and Contests to Win

My prize?
In the early 1990's, I worked in management at a very large car dealership.  The dealer and/or manufacturer often sponsored promotions, sweepstakes and giveaways to increase product recognition and sales. 
One year the manufacturer co-sponsored a local sweepstakes in which a vehicle was to be given away.  To enter, contestants had to go to a local store and fill out a paper entry form (this was the 90's) by a certain date. The winner was drawn from the entries received.
The winner of the contest had to pick up the vehicle at the dealership where I worked and I was assigned to complete all the paperwork transferring ownership.  She was very excited when she arrived with her husband and small children to pick up the vehicle.  As I completed the paperwork, she told me she was a stay-at-home mom. She explained she saw the contest advertised in the newspaper and asked her husband to take her to the location so she could enter.  Her husband was reluctant but agreed. He waited in the car with their small children while she ran inside to enter the contest.  She went on to tell me she entered only once and on the last day.
Interestingly, I was told that though the contest was heavily advertised and the box in which to enter was placed in a major department store at a mall, the contest received relatively few enteries. I assume many people saw the box or the advertisement and thought, "Why bother? I never win anything".
Later in life I spoke with another lady who told me a story of also winning a vehicle from a car dealership. She stated you entered the contest but then had to be present to win at the drawing. She said they drew many names before her name was called. However, her story did not have a happy ending.
The lady went on to explain she then learned she had not "won" a vehicle but rather a two-year lease of a vehicle with mileage restrictions.  The contest was advertised as winning a vehicle, not winning a 2-year lease. She  contacted an attorney but because she had signed a release agreeing to accept the 2-year lease as the prize she apparently had little recourse.  She was very bitter and felt cheated.
I occassionally enter advertising promotions, sweepstakes or contests. I do not enter anything that requires paying money, including charity raffles since I would consider these to be a form of gambling. Personally, I consider gambling just a legal form of greed. But, if I were to become obsessed with entering contests, would I be any better? Would I be simplifying my life?
This spring, I wanted to get tickets to go the "Symphony in the Flint Hills", a local event where the Kansas City symphony plays a concert outside each year in a different location in the Kansas Flint Hills (
Symphony in theFlint Hills
My husband and I have attended this event for the last several years but it has become increasingly difficult to obtain and expensive to buy tickes.  I saw a local bank had a contest giving away two tickets to the concert. I decided to enter. When I went to the bank's website, I noted there were several other contests and I just went ahead and entered them all. I did this on my laptop while watching television. I was bored.
Though, I didn't win tickets, we managed to obtain tickets and went to the concert. I forgot all about entering the contest. Months later I was checking my junk email and noticed I had received a notice I had won a contest. Usually, I would have deleted without opening. However, the email title stated the name of hte bank and the contest, which I remembered entering. I also recognized the parent name of a local radio station which co-sponsored the contest. I was being notified I had won a contest for backyard items.
If you do enter a contest, many will only notify you be email (which may go into your spam folder). Often, you must respond by a certain date (typically 48-72 hours) or risk forfeiture. I would not advise opening any email stating you have won a contest unless you actually know you entered that contest. And remember, no legitimate contest requires you to pay taxes or any other fees upfront. If you do not remember entering the contest, you didn't. Con artists are betting you will become so greedy you will throw caution to the wind.
In the case of this contest, I was given the choice of patio furniture or a children's playset. After doing some research, I chose the playset. I had to go to the radio station and obtain a certificate which I then took to a local lawn and garden store to obtain the swingset. The radio station gave me a "1099" form which I will file with my taxes. The playset will be considered income by the IRS. You do not pay the taxes upfront but you will pay income tax on the total value of the item won.
I was speaking to a friend of my mine debating whether to get the patio furniture or the playset. I wanted the furniture but thought the store was really inflating the furniture's value.
She said, "It's just not free enough for you, is it?"
I had to laugh. But since I knew I would be paying taxes on whatever value the store placed on the item, I wanted to make sure it was a fair and reasonable evauluation.
It took a couple of months from the time I received notification to when I actually received the certificate for the playset. It took a lot of emails and calls to arrange. I had to make a trip to pick it up. My husband had to put it together. I need to buy mulch and spread underneath it.
Not simple. Not really free.
So, if you still want to enter contests, do so with caution and don't waste a ton of time doing it. Your chances are highest of winning:
1)  local contest over national;
2)  small prize over large prize;
3)  less popular prizes (ie: $25 gift certificate to Dairy Queen vs an iPad)
Why?  Simple statistics.  The fewer the enteries, the more likely your chances of winning.
If you want to enter sweepstakes or  contests, this website provides a current list:

I like this website because it allows you to search by region, prize, end date, number of entries allowed, etc.

Often trade shows (such as lawn & garden or home shows) offer many booths featuring giveaways. I have noted many older individuals who bring address labels with them to such shows and place an address label on the entry instead of having to hand fill out each form. I think this is pretty smart.
My Grandpa always advised folding an entry so it would have multiple edges and thus easier to grab when being drawn rather than simply folding it in half or not at all before placing in a box of entries.   

Also, be aware that by entering a contest, you may be giving permission to a company to contact you in the future in an attempt to sell you something or to sell your name, contact information and demographics. So, always read the fine print before entering. 

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