They're on almost every Web site and Facebook page: annoying pop-up sweepstake ads offering free vacations and iPods, for example. But can anyone actually win anything?
"Good Morning America" technology contributor Becky Worley spent an entire day entering contests and tracking results for a week. Did she win, or did she make her life miserable with spam and telemarketers?
I decided to try entering online contests for myself. Every pop-up offer I encountered, I said yes. I searched Google for "contests" and just started entering one Internet sweepstakes after another. For an entire day, I committed to the task and ended up entering dozens if not a hundred or so contests.
I created a new e-mail account to use with all the entry forms. I wanted to keep my working e-mail account free of junk, but I also wanted to determine how much spam the contests generated. I thought that would be enough to keep myself isolated from the contest solicitors, but almost every entry form mandated a phone number and street address. I used the general ABC street address and bought a prepaid phone to handle any incoming calls or texts.
And did I get texts! Almost instantly after filling out some contests' entry forms I received text messages with a PIN number. They exhorted me to go back to the entry area and enter the PIN so I could receive even more chances to win.
Buried on the Web sites was information about this resulting in a $9.99 monthly charge on my cell phone bill. These were premium text scams, third party companies get you to enter a PIN and accept their charges. While premium texting is a great way to pay for ringtones or use your mobile phone to donate to the Red Cross, it's also an easy way to trick you into paying $10 a month or more into a black hole.
I didn't accept any of the premium text offers, but I did continue to enter contests. I found some that looked really legitimate like one on the nba.com site and one on the M&M's site. I also entered Facebook contests where you become a fan of a company or group to gain a chance to win.
Twitter proved to be an interesting new venue for contests. I entered nine contests there. Most seem like ploys to get more followers, including some very legit-looking contests from designer Vivienne Tam, and a Web site I know and like called DealsPlus. But many Twitter contests looked completely bogus, including one offered by a guy with 72 followers and a page rife with typos.
We asked the folks at the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) about these contests online to determine if the legal issues for Internet contests are different from those in the real world, and they told us they are exactly the same. And they said they've never had a complaint about an online contest.
But I posit: It's hard to get all worked up about not winning a contest -- who can know if it was a scam or the odds.
So that leaves the big question; does anyone win these online contests?
WinPrizesOnline.com is a sweepstakes aggregator with an interactive community identifying the highest quality sweepstakes so that users can quickly find and enter them. Users get free access to sweepstakes from across the Internet. The Web site also has a sweepstakes community with forums and interactive comments where users can swap hints and information about general strategy as well as specific sweepstakes.