Guidance for Consumers on Sweepstakes & Prize Promotions | ANA

Guidance for Consumers on Sweepstakes & Prize Promotions

Entering prize promotions and sweepstakes can be fun, exciting and enjoyable. But some offers sound too good to be true. You know the rule, if it sounds too good to be true – it just might.

Do you have questions about a prize promotion or sweepstakes mailing that you’ve received? Not sure if it’s legitimate? Maybe the offer says you have won but only need to pay a small fee to get your prize, or appears to have a government “seal” but really isn’t from the government. This fact sheet provides you with additional information and resources on how to determine if an offer or promotion is legitimate and where you can go to report illegitimate practices.

Number One Rule: No purchase necessary to win!

The Deceptive Mail Prevention and Enforcement Act governs sweepstakes promotional mailings. This federal law requires mailings to clearly state that no purchase is necessary to enter a contest and that a purchase does not improve your chances of winning, among other rules and requirements. Therefore, any legitimate organization running a lottery or prize promotion would never ask consumers to submit a payment to receive their prize or award. Companies are also not permitted to send promotional mailings that appear to be coming from the government such as displaying a government logo or seal.


  • Remember -- no purchase necessary to enter or “win” your prize.
  • Don’t submit payment via check, money transfer/wire, or credit/debit card to these organizations.
  • Don’t provide sensitive personal information such as Passport, Social Security or Driver’s License numbers or bank account information.
Be Cautious: Watch for Imposters!

There is an uptick in scammers posing as a familiar Brand or government agency. These imposters try to get money from unsuspecting consumers by running illegal sweepstakes and prize promotions and trading on the good reputation of known names (i.e., Publishers Clearing House, Reader’s Digest, American Express, Oprah, Ellen, IRS, or Federal Trade Commission to name just a few). Scammers will call, mail, email or post a fake profile on Facebook asking money from consumers to “win” their grand prize. 


  • Remember -- no purchase necessary to enter or “win” your prize.
  • The federal government does not conduct any sweepstakes.
  • If you’re not sure if the offer is actually real – go to the official company’s website and contact customer service.
Special Alert for Caregivers and Elderly:

Many unethical companies prey and target the elderly with these fraudulent and deceptive sweepstakes and prize promotions. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service has a good fact sheet on this issue for people of all ages.

How Can You be Removed from Promotional Offers?

You may register your name and address on the mail removal service. It is important to note though that if you are receiving fraudulent offers via postal mail then these are not legitimate, responsible marketers and therefore would not subscribe to our DMAChoice suppression file. The DMAChoice is a service we provide to consumers to assist you in managing your marketing preferences. Companies may use this file to suppress before sending promotional mail to prospective customers.

For more information about sweepstakes promotional rules:


Where Should You File Your Complaint?

What Ethical Guidelines Apply to Sweepstakes Offers?

Consumers may review our Guidelines on Ethical Business Practice for additional guidance on this issue and what you should look for in a responsible sweepstakes promotion. We have highlighted the following Articles which specifically apply to sweepstakes and contest promotions for your further review:

  • Article #1 Honesty & Clarity of the Offer: All offers should be clear, honest and complete so that the consumer may know the exact nature of what is being offered, the price, the terms of payment (including all extra charges) and the commitment involved in the placing of an order.
  • Article #2, Accuracy and Consistency: Simple and consistent statements or representations of all the essential points of the offer should appear in the promotional material. The overall impression of an offer should not be contradicted by individual statements, representations, or disclaimers.
  • Article #3, Clarity of Representations: Representations which, by their size, placement, duration, or other characteristics are unlikely to be noticed or are difficult to understand should not be used if they are material to the offer.
  • Article #4 Actual Conditions: All descriptions, promises and claims of limitation should be in accordance with actual conditions, situations, and circumstances existing at the time of the promotion.
  • Article #10 Solicitation in the Guise of an Invoice or Governmental Notification: Offers that are likely to be mistaken for bills, invoices, or notices from public utilities, or governmental agencies should not be used.
  • Article #22 Use of the Term "Sweepstakes": Sweepstakes are promotional devices by which items of value (prizes) are awarded to participants by chance without the promoter's requiring the participants to render something of value (consideration) to be eligible to participate. The co-existence of all three elements -- prize, chance and consideration -- in the same promotion constitutes a lottery. It is illegal for any private enterprise to run a lottery without specific governmental authorization.
  • Article #23 No Purchase Option: Promotions should clearly state that no purchase is required to win sweepstakes prizes. They should not represent that those who make a purchase or otherwise render consideration with their entry will have a better chance of winning or will be eligible to win more or larger prizes than those who do not make a purchase or otherwise render consideration. The method for entering without ordering should be easy to find, read, and understand. When response devices used only for entering the sweepstakes are provided, they should be as easy to find as those utilized for ordering the product or service.
  • Article #24 Chances of Winning: No sweepstakes promotion, or any of its parts, should represent that a recipient or entrant has won a prize or that any entry stands a greater chance of winning a prize than any other entry when this is not the case. Winners should be selected in a manner that ensures fair application of the laws of chance.
  • Article #25Prizes: Sweepstakes prizes should be advertised in a manner that is clear, honest, and complete so that the consumer may know the exact nature of what is being offered. For prizes paid over time, the annual payment schedule and number of years should be clearly disclosed.
  • Photographs, illustrations, artwork, and the situations they represent should be accurate portrayals of the prizes listed in the promotion.
  • No award or prize should be held forth directly or by implication as having substantial monetary value if it is of nominal worth. The value of a non-cash prize should be stated at regular retail value, whether actual cost to the sponsor is greater or less.
  • All prizes should be awarded and delivered without cost to the participant. If there are certain conditions under which a prize or prizes will not be awarded, that fact should be disclosed in a manner that is easy to find, read, and understand.
  • Article #61 Laws, Codes and Regulations: There are federal laws that cover fraudulent mailings, as indicated above. Moreover, according to the Deceptive Mail Prevention and Enforcement Act of 1999, government seals should not be used in mail pieces.