By GalTime.com's Consumer Watchdog Mary Schwager
You know all those contests you see online offering amazing sounding prizes like designer shoes or dream vacations? Can you really win? This Consumer Watchdog was always skeptical (except for the awesome giveaways on GalTime.com, of course!). Then, recently I met "Christine". This New England resident doesn't want her last name used, but she says she's won amazing prizes by entering online contests like: Gift cards, movie tickets, a $200 Coach purse, three netbooks, a Fender guitar signed by John Mellancamp, a year's worth of Godiva chocolates and a week at a gorgeous North Carolina beach house.
Really!!!! I made her show me pictures of the prizes to prove it. She claims she's never been scammed, nor is her inbox filled with spam. How does she pull it off? Christine says it's not hard at all.
Consumer Watchdog Mary: What are your secrets to winning?
Christine: I find almost all my contests on Slickdeals.net in the "Contest Forum". It's an online message board where people around the world take time to post contests they find for the rest of us. The board is organized with labels for different kinds of contests: "Daily, Instant Win Games", "One Time Entry" and others like essays, photo submissions, Twitter and unlimited entries. About once a month, I go through and sort by the date posted, then click on the contests that I am interested in and haven't done before. I have an excellent memory for where I left off, but some people note the last contest they entered by making a comment of "thanks" or something like that, to remind themselves that they already entered that one.
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Consumer Watchdog Mary: How do you keep track of what you've entered so you know you aren't getting some spam email claiming you won something?
Christine: As I enter the contests, I save the Dailies and Instant Wins, etc as Favorites in my browser, and I organize them by naming them with "Daily (or IWG) ends XX(day)/XX(month) and the name" and I keep them in order of when they end, so I can delete them as they expire. Then each day, I go down my list and re-enter all the Dailies and IWGs.
By sticking with forums I know, deals are usually legit. However, there is always a chance (that something could go wrong), so I just trust my gut and usually only stick with companies I know (Ford, McDonalds, P&G, etc). If you aren't sure, you can do some quick online research on the company before providing your info.
Never pay to enter a contest, and never give out your SSN to enter, of course! Many contests will simply require your name and email. Most require your address and phone number, as well as DOB-most of which is not overly sensitive information if you are concerned with someone having your info (think about what someone can find out these days about you by just googling your name!)
Consumer Watchdog Mary: Do you get inundated with spam? And junk mail? What are your secrets to keeping that out of your inbox?
Christine: As for spam, many contesters have an email address just for contests, using Gmail or Yahoo, etc, which is fine. I don't do that, though, and I don't get much spam (I have Gmail, they have a great spam filter). Most contests will have check boxes on the entry form, where you need to check that you've read the Rules, or Terms & Conditions. Then, they also have a box to get added to their mailing list, or sign up to receive more info (some will even be signups for actual paid subscriptions, so be careful!) Just be sure that the box for the mailing list/more info is unchecked. Be sure to read the statement carefully, as some even say check here to NOT receive info, so just make sure you read and check or uncheck accordingly. Also, if/when you do receive spam messages, almost all emails will have an Unsubscribe option, to stop receiving the messages, I do this a few times a year to clean up my inbox.
Are you now thinking "Well I'm going to jump online and start entering? That Coach purse is going to be mine?" Before you do--a few common sense precautions from Sitejabber's CEO, Jeremy Gin:
Check reviews of the website providing the contest to make sure it's not a scam. At SiteJabber, we often receive reports of phony contests which are "phishing" for people's personal information, so we always recommended checking reviews before using any unfamiliar site.
Be careful with the information your provide. It's important to realize that whatever information you give them could be at minimum used to market or sell more products or services to you. However, at worst, that information could be made public or bought or sold by unknown companies or individuals. For this reason it's important not to provide anymore information than is absolutely necessary. So if to enter a contest you're required to enter your credit card number, you should ask yourself, "If there is no purchase necessary, why does this contest need my credit card number?" And if that kind of personal information is required to enter, it's typically best to walk away.
Have you ever entered an online contest? Did you win? What are your secrets? Were you scammed or spammed? Please share them with Galtime readers by leaving your comments below!
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