It’s Illegal To Charge To Enter A Sweepstakes

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No matter how big or small a company may be, it’s still illegal for for-profit companies to demand a purchase to enter a sweepstakes. Over the years, I have seen companies of all sizes violating this law, which falls under federal consumer trade law as administered by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission). It’s relatively rare, but this happens often enough to keep me annoyed.

The biggest and most persistent violators are (as of press time) some, but not all cable and other media companies. They will demand that you be a customer in good standing in order to enter, and you must provide your account credentials get your entry to go through. A good example of this comes from the rules from a recent DISH Network sweepstakes: “NO PURCHASE OR PAYMENT NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN, NOR WILL A PURCHASE IMPROVE YOUR CHANCES OF WINNING.”

I call bull shit. Further down is this part: “Limit one (1) Entry per day per household and per DISH account, for the Sweepstakes Period.” This means that you have to be a customer to enter, and the rules have no entry option without a purchase requirement. The rules I’m referring to are here. Very often, companies comply with the law by offering a mail-in option in the rules. Not so in this case.

No biggie, you say? But it is.

This was a big deal in 2008 when CVS Corp was fined $77,000 after they directed consumers to make a digital print purchase in order to enter. This site also details a $52,000 fine that McNeil Consumer & Specialty Pharmaceuticals, owners of the Tylenol brand, were required to pay because they, too, were in violation of FTC law.

Complain about the sponsor trying to charge to enter? It’s up to you.

It’s understandable, and human nature, to not want to bring more complications and difficulty into your life over small things. If you encounter a sweepstakes that is charging, it’s tempting to skip over it and move onto the next one. It’s called “choosing your battles wisely.” Been there, done that.

For those who have a more ornery style, or if you simply enjoy a challenge, report law-breaking companies to the FTC and/or the state attorneys general where the company is located. Perhaps your following up will force them to change the rules, as CVS Corp. and McNeil Consumer inevitably did. You may not win their sweepstakes by forcing them to open the giveaway to your entry, yet you’d be getting the fair shot at winning that you’re legally entitled to.

In my opinion, complaining to a company’s customer support won’t help at all. Customer support personnel are not in charge of making the rules, and are trained to answer questions about billing and service interruptions. Customer service people will likely answer you with a typical clueless response that does not answer your question. There’s a good chance they may not even read what you wrote about the sweepstakes, and send you a boilerplate answer about something else.

There’s lots of information online about the FTC’s law regarding sweepstakes and lotteries. In a nutshell, it’s possibly legal to charge if you’re running a judged contest, but not so for a random chance sweepstakes. This falls under the category of lottery, and only the government can run those. A charity can charge for entries, but not for-profit companies.

For more information on sweepstakes and lottery laws, read about it at the FTC’s website.

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