As long as there have been sweepstakes, there have been cheaters. Digital sweepstakes and certainly social media sweepstakes have only opened up the floodgates for unethical entrants to hijack the prizes. To make matters worse, many small businesses and agencies are grossly unaware of these sweepstakes pitfalls. I originally touched on this topic in my blog post Why Voting Contests are Always a Bad Idea.
Different Types of Cheaters
There is a wide variety of ways entrants can cheat. Here are just a few.
This one is very old school. It is rare to see entry pads and ballot boxes in stores anymore. Back in the day a cheater would swipe the whole pad, fill them all out and stuff the box. If you own a restaurant or shop and still put out a fish bowl to collect business cards, go through all of the entries before selecting a winner.
These types of cheaters are nefarious and you have no way of catching this type of cheater. If you are running text contests, be aware that unscrupulous sweepers have more than one cellphone. They will have a main cell phone they use for everyday life and 3-7 burner phones they use for text contests only. As each number is different and not attached to a specific name or address, figuring out that an entrant has more than one number is impossible.
Even asking for photo ID to collect the prize won’t work as they could claim one and a friend could claim the other if more than one cellphone number won. Having prizes over $600 in value will trigger a Form 1099-MISC which makes it harder for cheaters as they must use their Social Security Number to claim their winnings.
This type of cheater is obvious. Having more than once social media account per platform. I have no idea how cheaters manage this method because I can barely keep up with my personal and business accounts, let alone multiple accounts to cheat entering sweepstakes. It’s easy to create free email accounts and set-up multiple Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest profiles for entering social media sweepstakes.
Similar to those using burner phones, the solutions are not clear on how to determine if the entrant has followed the official rules.
Many companies include Repeat Entry Blockers (REB) when creating online sweepstakes. They prevent someone from submitting an entry before the daily entry period is up or re-entering at all, in the case of single entry sweepstakes.
Businesses may rely on the Internet Service Provider (ISP) on the entrant’s computer to determine eligibility. They do not work if the entrant is using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Hardcore cheaters will have multiple computers in their home. All using VPNs.
If the REB uses email addresses to determine a repeat entry attempt the cheater will use one of the multiple accounts they manage to by pass the system.
Similar to the multiple social media accounts, it is easy to make up names and if the prize is under $600, who is going to know the Bob Smith and Jack Jones are the same people, especially if they use a friend’s address to collect both prizes. Yes, cheaters work in pairs or teams. (Read this 5-part series titled; Cheaters Always Win (& Get Caught).
Blocking Online Cheaters
What can you do to prevent cheating? There are 5 good places to start.
Be sure to monitor your contests each day. Look at the database. Check the timeline. Scan the replies and mentions. Read every comment. Look at every photograph submitted. Delete anything unprofessional immediately.
Check the entry database for duplicates. Dedupe (short for data duplication) each contest before drawing the potential winners. Some contest apps have built in dedupe programs. If using a spreadsheet, sort it several different ways and scan for anomalies.
If you are a small business or an entrepreneur hosting giveaways as a marketing tool, it’s wise to get another employee or a colleague to help you review the promotion. Another set of eyes may spot inappropriate entries or inconsistencies in data that you may not. If the contest begins to viral, another set of hands to monitor the promotion is also vital.
If you consistently run sweepstakes, the easiest way to vet out cheaters is to require all winners to provide photo id with an address that must match their entry. This is even more important if the prize value is over $600 and you are filing Form 1099-MISC with the IRS.
Are you running a high profile contest or one that the winner will be publicized? Be sure to vet all potential winners before announcing them as an official winner. Could you imagine what would happen if you announce the grand prize winner only to discover they have a dark criminal past? Consider hiring a detective to conduct a comprehensive background check on each potential winner. Shannon Tulloss Investigations has built a business protecting businesses and agencies from unsavory characters.
It’s impossible to stop all cheating, but taking precautionary steps when setting up and running a sweepstakes will slow down or lessen the fraudulent entries.
Have you ever caught a cheater red-handed while running a social media contest?