They’re everywhere from banner ads to direct links and e-mail announcements — online sweepstakes that promise chances to win big. But should you gamble?

I have made entering online sweepstakes a hobby for the past two years as a no-cost alternative to lottery tickets! In that time, I’ve learned how to identify a reputable sweepstakes and how to increase my odds of winning. I’ve been awarded gift cards, makeup, housewares, clothes, gift items and even coupons! Follow these seven tips to safely enter online sweepstakes and increase  your odds of winning:

1. Never Pay Money: Let me repeat that. Never pay money. Legitimate sweepstakes opportunities sponsored by companies whose names you will recognize are available online for free. If a site asks for a fee, bank account information, or a credit card number, exit immediately.

2. Protect Your Data: Avoid entering any entirely private data, like a Social Security number, in exchange for an entry. Legitimate sweepstakes companies will not ask for it. Legitimate companies will ask for your date of birth, mailing address, e-mail and possibly a phone number. Follow your instincts and don’t enter information that makes you feel uncomfortable.

3. Seek Reputable Companies: Nationally-known companies like Hershey’s, Clorox, and Dove routinely sponsor sweepstakes directly through their websites, as do magazines like Good Housekeeping, O, Lucky, and Self. These are great sources for safe sweeps.

 4. Check the Internet: Check your favorite online stores and sites monthly for sweepstakes and contests. My favorite is Dollar General. You’ll have more fun entering sweepstakes through familiar stores and sites.

5. Follow a Blog: Thekrazycouponlady.com posts sweepstakes, but also try a dedicated blog site like this or this, which list current sweepstakes along with their rules and links to enter.

6. Play the Odds: Find the number of prizes awarded along with odds of winning by clicking on the sweepstakes “Official Rules” page of any sweepstakes. Rule of Thumb: only enter contests giving away 1,000 or more prizes (I do make entry exceptions for favorite stores and companies).

7. Know the Rules: Read and understand the judging criteria for any entry that requires a photograph, written response, or essay. If a contest entry requires something creative, read the official rules and understand how items will be judged. Stay within word requirements, style, and file size.

Follow these tips and confidently enter online sweepstakes safely. Good luck!

This has been a guest post by Audrey in Texas
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4 thoughts on “Safer Sweepstakes: The Right Way to Enter (and Win) Prizes Online”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the great article!!  I would add to make sure and read each company’s privacy policy.  You will find that some legitimate companies will sell your information to third parties.  Those third parties will then sell it to anyone willing to pay.  Has anyone ever wondered how some of the information that they thought was not public is actually online? Websites will ask you to pay a price for someone’s phone number, address, etc. If you have never put your name in google, try it…it’s kinda scary!

    • dayna lloyd says:

       I figure it isn’t too hard for someone to find your name, number and address so I don’t feel horribly giving it to a sweepstakes, although I give my house number and not my cell number since I hardly ever answer my house phone. 

  2. dayna lloyd says:

    The first link listed in 5 doesn’t work.  

    • Guest says:

      When you hover your mouse over a link, see if shows the web address at the bottom left corner of your browser. The “first link” is to this same page. So if this article is used elsewhere, it can send the user back here.