Cheating in sweepstakes and competitions

It’s pretty hard to win competitions and sweepstakes these days isn’t it? Particularly with guys like Christian Methot and Hunter Scott on the case. These two clever geeks have bagged themselves hundreds of prizes with a little technical wizardry!

Christian – a Canadian programmer – has won cars, holidays and gadgets by setting up an automated system to generate thousands of email addresses and input them in online entry forms. Rather than using his own details on every entry, he enlisted the help of friends and family, who allow him to use their name and address details too. They’ve bagged themselves a Fiat, a snowmobile, lots of expensive holidays and much more. In one Hôtellerie Champêtre promotion, Christian’s greedy gang picked up SIX of the ten weekend breaks on offer – and THREE of the four prize tablets on offer in a Brunet sweepstakes!

You can read Christian’s story and see photos of him and his family with their prizes in the Journal de Montreal (click to translate if you don’t speak French).

JounralMontreal

Some of the statistics revealed in the article are unbelievable. In a prize draw to win a Fiat car, Christian submitted a whopping 123,644 entries (more than half). The Journal reports that in their own ‘win a car’ sweepstakes, he was submitting up to seven entries per minute! Christian doesn’t think he’s cheating though – he considers it to be a ‘gray area’. He’s not alone – did you read about the man who won multiple £500 prizes in a Pepsi promotion by entering thousands of times using different email addresses for his family members?

PepsiGuardian

When Pepsi only honoured one prize per family member, he had the cheek to complain to the ASA, who ruled that ‘significant conditions of the promotion were not made sufficiently clear’. In this case, they ruled that Pepsi were to blame for not including any IP address restrictions in the T&Cs – wow!

As for Hunter, he used a ‘bot’ on Twitter to automatically search and retweet tweets that included text like ‘retweet to win’, winning hundreds of prizes without lifting a finger! You can read his story on his website.

Hunter Scott

So, people can cheat by setting up multiple email addresses, and using bots or software to find and enter prize promotions. But what if they’re not quite clever enough to use these methods? Here are some other techniques to look out for:

Other ways people cheat in sweepstakes or competitions

  • Set up several Facebook accounts and enter with all of them
  • Set up multiple Twitter accounts and retweet simultaneously from them all
  • Enter a photo competition with someone else’s photo – read about Gillette’s comp here
  • Search Google for a recipe, poem or tiebreaker to enter in a competition, and pass it off as their own
  • Buy or swap fake votes – or sabotage a rival’s entry with fake votes!
  • Enter text comps using lots of phones – or swap SIM cards in their phone
  • Enter purchase-necessary promotions without buying the product – then if they win, ask on forums for people to post a receipt or packaging.

Oh yes, there are several methods to cheat the system, even if you’re no computer whizz! But of course, most of us hate greedy cheats like Christian – and promoters should too. And that’s why I’ve written this post: to show promoters how easy it is for people to cheat, unless they have clear, thorough T&Cs and stick to them!

How promoters can prevent cheating

  • Pay someone to look after the promotion. In the UK, PromoVeritas or Spark & Fuse do an excellent job.
  • Write robust T&Cs  – include ‘no automated, bulk or third party entries’, and ‘one entry per household’ for example – if you state ‘one entry per email address’, then it’s OK for people to enter with 500 addresses! In the UK, CAP offer a free service to check promotional copy/terms. Even on Facebook and Twitter you must include T&Cs – link to them if there’s not enough characters!
  • Ask for more details from the entrants than simply an email address.
  • Collect and check IP addresses.
  • If there’s a surge in entries, check them carefully – look for multiple email entries from the same domain or IP address.
  • Host the promotion using a Facebook app or login. With some apps you can specify that only entries from verified Facebook accounts (using a credit card or phone number) will be accepted.
  • Ask for a unique answer, rather than making it an easy entry prize draw.
  • Use a captcha – though not cheatproof, it certainly makes it harder to enter.
  • In a purchase necessary competition, ask for receipt details (or a photograph) at the point of entry, not afterwards.
  • Ask people to input unique codes from packaging rather than a barcode.
  • For a text entry prize draw, ask people to include their name and address rather than just a keyword.
  • In a creative competition, make it clear that entries must be original, and not infringe copyright.
  • On Twitter, ask for more than a retweet to enter a draw – try a reply with a unique hashtag.
  • Use Google’s reverse image search to check a winning entry for a photo competition, or Google for the text of a tiebreaker in quote marks to see if it’s been copied.
  • Don’t run games where the top scorer wins, as people can slow down the game to score highly – choose at random from everyone who gets a certain score instead.
  • Ask your winner for photo ID – make sure it matches the entrant’s name!
  • Don’t run a voting competition. Ever.
  • If somebody flags up cheating in a competition or prize draw, take it seriously!

Here in the UK we have had issues with automated entry services for years – Loquax and I have blogged with our concerns several times, and it was even covered in a BBC TV show. These dodgy companies (and individuals!) generate thousands of email addresses and enter them in bulk – and they should ALWAYS be disqualified.

Entering sweepstakes and competitions is a fun hobby for most people – but a few greedy folk can really spoil it for the rest of us.

Have you encountered cheating in a sweepstakes, prize draw or competition, either as an entrant or promoter? How was it dealt with?

 

18 Responses

  1. Jonathon Price says:

    I miss tie-breakers greatly, I won some brilliant prizes in the 90s: car, holidays etc. I gave up comping when instant wins came in – to me it seems now its a matter of luck and therefore its how many you enter…promoters PLEASE BRING BACK TIEBREAKER COMPS!!

  2. alison says:

    Oh lord no, please don’t bring back tiebreakers. I hate them, for the simple reason that I’m rubbish at them (I’m sure people who are good at them will think differently ;)). They reward a very particular sort of skill, meaning that the people who don’t have that skill are at a disadvantage, and I think it’s important to ensure that everyone who enters has an equal chance at winning, even when the competition involves a certain level of application.

    • Ah yes, but if people have an equal chance of winning then that’s a random prize draw rather than a competition – you can still have a small element of creativity/effort with those, to keep the cheats away (the current Munch Bunch selfie prize draw for example!). I like those, because anyone has a chance regardless of their photographic or writing talents – but I do feel it should get to a certain level of effort (eg. video and recipe comps) where it should become a competition and the main winner should be judged!

  3. David Hughes says:

    Oh how I agree with the commentator on this forum who makes a plea for the return of the tiebreaker. Are you listening, promoters? Not only do I greatly, greatly miss tiebreaker comps – doubtless my sentiments are shared by countless fellow compers – as the above-mentioned person observed the individuality of such creative efforts are a most effective way of ‘answering’ the problem of cheating. Repeat: PROMOTERS, ARE YOU L I S T E N I N G ….?

  4. Neill Johnstone says:

    Rules as written vs rules as intended might be legally grey, but morally speaking it’s crystal clear. 123,644 entries is foul play by any measure. Bring back the tie-breaker!

  5. Maddalena Spadone Dalton says:

    why write this telling people how to cheat ?

    • Andrea Goodheart says:

      Di is trying to show promoters of competitions how easy it is to cheat! 😉

      • Maddalena Spadone Dalton says:

        its also showing how to cheat.not a good idea.

        • The ‘how to cheat’ aspect of the post is tongue-in-cheek Maddalena, to catch people’s attention (it’s working!). Most people who want to cheat already know how to do it, they don’t need my help. What we need is for promoters, agencies and decent compers to read this post and realise that people DO cheat – and HOW they do it. And with knowledge of their underhand methods, it should be easier to prevent them actually winning!

          • Maddalena Spadone Dalton says:

            contacting companies would be a better way.

          • Jamie Millard says:

            I can see both sides of this argument – good intentions in the post, but it definitely will highlight a few possible methods that some might not have thought of if they are inclined to use them.
            I remember an article in the newspaper when I was a teenager. It was an expose on a dangerous new craze of kids making their own powerful catapults. The article was designed to alert parents to try to put a stop to it. Kids were cutting the top 1/3 off a 2l bottle of pop, gaffa taping a condom around the neck, putting in a stone, pulling on the condom and releasing and it wold fire with some force. The paper had a pictorial guide on how they were doing it.
            Now, as a teenager, I also read the paper I had never heard of this until I read about it. The first thing I did after reading it? Went out and made one.
            Whether many possible cheats will read the post above, i’m not sure. There’s a little risk though – but that risk is probably worth it in exchange for further promoting what can be done to put a stop to it, so keep up the good fight Di.

          • At least there’s no actual danger involved with people cheating in a competition – unlike firing a catapult (eek!). Most cheats are useless at it, and hopefully their attempts will be flagged up to promoters (by compers who have read this!) before they manage to get away with any decent prizes.

  6. debsj50 says:

    Well said Di, three things I can abide, liars cheaters and greedy people. Since starting comping (with the help from you) I have seen these awful qualities in the human race time and time again. I saw different one the other day, buying followers to fake accounts, what’s that all about ?

  7. Mad Wuman says:

    It is truly shocking that people regularly cheat in a competition. It is supposed to be a fun pastime. Most people do not expect to win every competition they enter. For goodness sake it is mostly “the luck of the draw”. Cheats are despicable.

  8. steven says:

    I alerted one Twitter company to the fact that their £150 cash prize winner was using multiple accounts and they actually agreed that she was as links were readily available to show how her Twitter accounts, Facebook accounts & name were connected to each other. They just didn’t seem to see that she was giving herself extra chances “…because there was only one prize and it was a random draw….” *sigh*

    • Lots of social media promotions are organised by people who don’t know the first thing about T&Cs, the CAP Code, Advertising Standards or indeed fair play! It’s frustrating, but I know that promoters do read my blog and my anti-voting/retweeting/sharing posts have made them aware of unfair promotions. Let’s hope this one does too!

  9. Rosemary Rowe says:

    Bravo, Di! I avoid any draw remotely involving a voting system. I think people who cheat are despicable – where’s the fun in that? Spoils it for the rest of us. I was seriously upset for our own Annie Taylor over the recent cooking competition which she lost to someone who was being nasty to her and blagging votes. It’s enough to make you despair of “human nature”.
    *Off my soap box now* 🙂

    • michellew1 says:

      The winning person also used a recipe which came up in one second of searching – not her own work either and when I pointed this out to the people running the comp they never replied 🙁

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