The La Porte City Police Department warns area residents to be wary of notices that promise the award of a large cash prize. Here are ten signs to be on the lookout for in bogus sweepstakes announcements:

 1. Sweepstakes Scams Require a Payment to Receive the Prize

Legitimate sweepstakes will never ask the winner to pay a fee to receive a prize. You should never have to pay a processing fee, handling charges, or a service fee of any kind before accepting a prize.

 2. Sweepstakes Scams Use Free E-mail Accounts

While it’s possible that some legitimate sweepstakes sponsors could send notification of a prize by e-mail, large companies like Publishers Clearing House do NOT use free e-mail accounts like Hotmail or Gmail. Stay away from any that do.

 3. Sweepstakes Scams Declare You a Winner… But You Don’t Recognize the Company

You can only win sweepstakes that you enter. If you didn’t submit an entry for a sweepstakes that declares you a winner, it doesn’t matter how official the announcement looks. You didn’t win.

 4. Sweepstakes Scams Send You a Large Check with your Notification

To fool people into thinking that a sweepstakes scam is legitimate, many con artists send counterfeit checks with their bogus notifications. Cashing fraudulent checks is a crime and legitimate sweepstakes require affidavits before sending out any prize valued at more than $600.

 5. Sweepstakes Scams Instruct You to Wire Money

Criminals love to use services like Western Union to receive illicit funds, because it is nearly impossible to trace who received the money. Western Union transfers are handled like cash, and it is nearly impossible to get back any money that you send to con artists in this way. Legitimate sweepstakes do not require the use of a wire service to send money.

 6. Sweepstakes Scams Pressure You to Act in a Hurry

Sweepstakes scammers have a very good reason for wanting their victims to act quickly. They want to get their money before the victim realizes what is going on. If you feel like you are being pressured to make a decision before you have the time to confirm the prize awarded is legitimate, be very suspicious.

 7. Sweepstakes Scams Require Bank or Credit Card Information

Legitimate sweepstakes do not send money by direct deposit, nor do they need to withdraw money from your bank or verify information using a credit card number. NEVER give out bank or credit card information.

 8. The “Win” is From a Lottery

It is impossible to win a lottery without buying a ticket. If you did buy a ticket, winning numbers can easily be checked in the newspaper or on the internet. Notices that come from foreign lotteries are even more suspicious. Not only do foreign lotteries have the same restriction as domestic lotteries, it is also illegal to sell tickets for foreign lotteries across international borders. So, unless you were actually in the foreign country and bought a lottery ticket while there, foreign lottery notifications are surely sweepstakes scams.

 9. Sweepstakes Scam Notifications Are Usually Sent Via Bulk Mail

When a legitimate sweepstakes sponsor sends out win notifications, they use first class postage or services such as FedEx or UPS to deliver them to ensure they arrive in a timely fashion. Sweepstakes scam artists, however, target as many people they can for the least cost. They send scam letters out by bulk mail to take advantage of the postage savings. For this reason, never trust a win notification that arrives by bulk mail.

 10. Sweepstakes Scams Contain Many Typos

It’s possible any company could have a spelling error in their prize announcement. Glaring errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation, though, should set off red flags in your mind. Many sweepstakes scams originate outside of the United States and Canada, created by people with a poor command of the English language. Be very cautious of any win notice that contains a lot of errors.