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).
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?
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.
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?