July 2005                              By Attorney General Tom Miller



You're Taking a Chance When You Respond to Sweepstakes Mailings


            Iowans receive millions of sweepstakes notices every year.  But sweepstakes mailings are much more likely to bring big problems than big prizes -- problems such as dashed hopes, unnecessary purchases, and even huge losses.


            One of the most troubling facts is that many older Iowans have lost thousands of dollars apiece -- sometimes tens of thousands -- to sweepstakes operations.  Sweepstakes often have misled older Iowans to believe they are about to win, and that buying more merchandise or magazines will make the difference.  Older Iowans (and their families and their advocates) need to be on the lookout for harmful sweepstakes.


            By law, sweepstakes prizes cannot be awarded on the basis of whether you purchased merchandise.  Don’t buy products you don't need in the mistaken hope that it will help you win a huge sweepstakes prize!


            And here’s another serious danger:  Some sweepstakes mailings are used to locate potential targets for telemarketing fraud.  If you respond, you may then be targeted by fraudulent telemarketers trying to get you to pay for a phony “prize.”


            Follow these tips to avoid being misled by sweepstakes offers:




C                   Be skeptical of letters and post cards claiming to be "official" or "urgent" or that try to appear like personalized correspondence addressed only to you.  You can bet that thousands of people are receiving the same notice and that you were not "specially selected" to win, as sweepstakes so often suggest.


C                   Don't be fooled by common tactics sweepstakes use to falsely make you believe that you have won or are close to winning, such as personal-looking letters from company employees, or maps to your home to deliver your so-called prize.


C                   Don’t fall for any claim that you must pay money to get a “prize” released to you.


            To file a complaint -- or to get advice if someone you know is losing large amounts of money to sweepstakes -- contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division, Hoover Bldg., Des Moines, Iowa 50319.  Call 515-281-5926, or 888-777-4590 (toll-free.)  The web site is: (“click on protecting consumers.”)


Consumer Protection Division   Hoover Building   Des Moines, Iowa 50319    515/281-5926