Sweepstakes scams often begin with a letter in the mail that claims something like, "you could be a winner already," or "congratulations, you have made it into the final round."  Millions of Americans receive these sweepstakes in the mail, whether it is the famous Publishers Clearing House or some other contest. These companies are hoping that you will buy whatever products they are offering, whether it be some kind of literature, novelty items, clothing, etc.

However, these companies frequently do not try to sell those products directly, but rather sell the chance of winning massive amounts of money. In doing so, some of these companies have crossed the line between lawful sales practices and consumer fraud. The following are various illegal methods used by companies to get consumers to participate in the sweepstakes and in the process spend money on their products:

  • Purchasing the product increases chances of winning : some companies offering the sweepstakes have said or implied that the consumer has a better chance of winning the contest if he spends money purchasing the products.
  • Fabricating warnings of claiming a prize : some companies say that a customer should respond quickly to the sweepstakes offer so that someone else does not claim "their" prize.  The problem is that this gives a consumer the false impression he has already won the prize (which, of course, he has not).
  • Created the impression of a select group : some companies have made consumers think they were one of a few customers who were eligible for the prize and that one of them would get it.  In actuality, just about everyone is eligible and the possibility you will receive any prize is remote at best.
  • Endorsement by the government : some companies have falsely claimed their contests were endorsed or sponsored by the state or federal government.  Unless it is the state lotto, do not ever believe this claim.

What Action Has Been Taken against These Companies?

In the past, lawsuits and class action suits have been filed against Publishers Clearing House, Reader’s Digest Association, United States Purchasing Exchange, and Time Inc. Some of these have been settled with payouts to consumers in the millions. 

Should I Consult a Consumer Fraud Attorney?

If you feel you have spent money toward products because you thought it would give you a better chance at winning the sweepstakes, or feel you have been unfairly tricked into thinking you have won a sweepstakes contest, you may want to consult a consumer lawyer. Your attorney will be able to advise you of your rights and let you know if you may be entitled to money damages in a lawsuit against the company.