March 10, 2011 -- 1. Never pay to play a sweepstakes. By law, any U.S. sweepstakes must be available to anybody who wants to enter, without purchasing anything or paying an entry fee.
2. You shouldn't have to pay any taxes, handling fees, service charges or any other money up front to claim your prize, either. You are supposed to pay taxes on your winnings to the IRS, but not to the contest company.
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3. Keep a separate e-mail account just for sweepstakes entries. You WILL get spam, some of it scam spam. You don't want that in your main personal box.
4. On almost every sweepstakes entry form, there are opt out boxes that say something like: I agree to receive future e-mails from the sponsor. Uncheck those boxes before submitting the form.
5. When you enter an online sweepstakes, often you will receive a text response containing a PIN number of some sort. CAUTION: If you use this PIN to enter still more contests, you may miss the fine print that says you are joining some club or service that costs money each month.