Sweeping 101: What the Real Winners Know

By Linsey Knerl on 6 August 2007 (Updated 18 August 2007) 14 comments

Hi, my name is Linsey, and I’m a sweeper. It is sometimes difficult to admit, but I belong to that persistent group of individuals who go to considerable lengths to enter sweepstakes. I also win fairly regularly. My recent winnings include a bicycle, a home automation system, 2 satellite radios, hotel stays, cell phones, gift cards, cash, DVD’s, spa visits, clothing, baby items, video games, gaming systems, office supplies, a digital camera and printer, a trip to San Francisco, and so much more! Winning is more about knowing than anything else, so I’m going to give you the basics to get started. You can’t win if you don’t enter!

 

What is a sweepstakes? Simply put, a sweepstakes is a random draw of entries for a prize. Generally sponsored or paid for by companies wishing to promote their products or services, sweepstakes are a billion dollar marketing tactic by thousands of companies a year. You should never have to purchase anything to enter. If a sweepstakes requires a UPC code, special form from a product, or a “winning game piece” there will always be an alternate means of entry, or it is not a legal sweepstakes. If entry into a sweepstakes requires an entry fee or raffle ticket purchase, it is not a true sweepstakes.

 

Where do I find sweepstakes? While sweepstakes are simply hard to avoid these days, there are some very good resources for finding all the good ones in one place. The top sites that sweepers use are Online-Sweepstakes and SweepsAdvantage Both are very good resources with much different formats. Other places to find sweepstakes are in magazines, email newsletters, grocery stores (the liquor aisles usually have tons), and local radio stations.

 

How do I get started? While all you really need to get started is a computer and some extra time, there are some tricks to the trade that you should know. First, get a separate email for your sweepstakes entries. While the chances of spam aren’t that much greater (assuming you are only entering legitimate sweepstakes), you will receive some sponsor newsletters as a condition for entry into some of the better sweepstakes. You really don’t want that cluttering up your work or personal inbox. Also, make sure you have a physical mailing address set up for your entries. Some prize fulfillment companies do not ship to P.O. boxes, as they want to guarantee “one prize per household” rules.

 

What tools will I need? I’m a big fan of the Firefox browser with the Fasterfox add-on. This saves my pages for quick viewing later, and if you are entering some of the same sweepstakes daily, this will save you time. (Just be sure to clear everything weekly or more to avoid PC clutter and security issues.) Also, I have been using the free version of Roboform for filling out all of my forms quickly. This doesn’t violate the terms of most sweepstakes regulations which prohibit automated entry, as you are manually entering the contest by loading the page and hitting submit. (Some sweepstakes, especially those sponsored by Microsoft specify “manually keystroked” entries. This just bugs me, so I sometimes skip them.) I do want to point out that the newest version of Firefox doesn’t yet support Roboform, so you may want to use the previous version until it is updated.

 

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How do you have time to do this? I make time. Seriously, like anything else, I maximize time spent entering to get the biggest bang for my buck. I only enter for things I want, need, or can sell for a nice chunk of cash. I spend 30-45 minutes a day during my morning coffee or an afternoon snack entering the sweepstakes that are ending the next day, and I sometimes glance through the instant wins for things I really want. By being selective but persistent, I have a good chance of getting in entries and not ending up with some junky prize that I have to make room for later.

 

How long before I win something? I don’t know. But I will say that as a general rule, it will take at least 6 months to really see the fruits of your labor. Or you may be one of those really, really unlucky people that don’t ever win anything. But I tend to think that those people just aren’t entering all that often, or they give up after a month or two.

 

What about taxes? Pay them. You should get a 1099 for any prizes valued over $600. You should also be an honest person and figure the value (true fair market value) on your other winnings. Claim it as unearned income on your return, and pay up. It really is no big deal for most people. My trip to San Francisco cost me $120 in taxes on a trip valued at over $2500. While this will all depend on your tax bracket, it is still a really awesome deal!

 

I hate sweepers. Aren’t they just greedy people trying to get stuff for free from hard-working companies? I’m sorry you feel that way. I love getting stuff for free, and that is my main motivation for entering. But most companies love sweepers. Entering sweepstakes exposes me to thousands of new products and offerings that I may not have otherwise been aware of. By being a part of that marketing effort, I am 10 times more likely to buy something than if I had just seen an ad in a magazine. My opinion of the company is more favorable if they like “giving back” to the consumer. And I can’t tell you how many products I have become brand-loyal to because the sponsor sent a small sample or a prize that I went on to love forever. Sweepstakes are marketing genius. And if you figure that the cost of these sweepstakes campaigns are figured into the cost of the product that we all buy anyway, shouldn’t you get in on that sweet deal?

 

Sweeping can be a fun way to win prizes you can’t afford to buy. If you’re already spending 2 hours a day on MySpace or playing online Sims games, just pop open that extra browser window and enter a few now and again. Who knows, you just might be a winner!

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Guest's picture

I tend to join every sweepstakes I come across too! Havent won anything yet though :(

Guest's picture
Lucille

I have been put off about entering sweepstakes after hearing that most were just a way for marketers to get your contact information.

I can deal with setting up a spam account to deal with the email coming in. What is a concern is the phone and mailbox junk potential. I could not deal with every sales and telemarketing company calling me or a mail box jammed with junkmail. Is there a way to control this or am I just over reacting?

I also see sweepstakes at the grocery store and big box home improvement stores all the time for vehicles. But you never see anything posted about who won. I have wondered if any of these companies actually followed through on giving away the vehicle or not? Is there any way to tell? I always thought it would be foolish to give away my contact information when they were never really going to give away the car.

I did win a TV by accident once. Our bank started using Visa branded debit cards and we were put into the random drawing just for using our card. Still have the TV too.

Linsey Knerl's picture

I totally understand your concern.  While most sweepstakes are a great way for marketers of the sponsoring companies to get you on their mailing lists, MOST will offer a little opt-in box to check (or uncheck -- read carefully) to stay off of their mailing lists.  Some require that you be listed on their newsletter list, but it is easy to remove yourself later if you find it is something you are not interested in.

 What is important is that you weigh the pros and cons for that particular contest.  If you are entering to win a DVD worth $20, and you will be required to be on a daily newsletter mailing for a year to be entered... you may want to avoid that one.  But if they are giving away at plasma screen tv, and just want to send you a one-time packet of information with coupons, etc... than I would go for it.

Those places in the malls and such with new cars can be a scam.  This is why I tend to stick to online sweepstakes listed on such places as I mentioned in my article.  They have very good moderators there, and if a sweeps looks spammy, they'll usually take it off the site immediately.  They want only good, quality sweeps there.

While I have entered one or two sweeps in a year's time that generated unwanted phone calls for replacement window sales or truck-toppers, being direct usually solves the problem.  A firm, but polite, "I was only interested in your sweepstakes, please take me off the calling list," will take care of that immediately.  But this is a rare instance.

Hope this helps you!

Lynn Truong's picture

I tried this for a few months but never won anything and gave up. I always wondered if I had kept going would it have paid off eventually. It's inspiring to hear that it works for you. Thanks for the great info!

Guest's picture
jessica o

Linsey it is Jessica O, technical difficulties here, but I just wanted to say this is a great post!

One question, do you use any Sweeps tracking software? I found one site, but it seemed more of a pain than a benefit.

For those who are concerned about spam/privacy
I wrote this article about free stuff, but I touch on the privacy issue & have a few tips

Linsey Knerl's picture

Your article saved me a gazillion words.. Thanks!  Also, I have used sweep software, but found it to be a pain.  I usually just use either the tools included in the memberships on some sites, or I have just gone with a system of entering the one-time entries on the day they are listed, the dailies any time I want, and then everything I missed the day before it ends. 

Also, there is some software that actually enters for you, and this is considered a no-no, so check the fine print on this type of thing....

 

 

Guest's picture
Lucille

I had thought about using a GrandCentral phone number as well, that way if I can control incoming phone calls if I start getting telemarketer calls from one of the entries.

I see the car sweepstakes at the mall and avoid them. What about the ones usually sponsored by the grocery store or big box stores. I am assuming those are probably safer if they are officially sponsored by the store?

I had also thought about setting up a seperate igoogle page with links or rss feeds to sweepstakes related sites and daily entries like HGTV runs.

Linsey Knerl's picture

The key to most of my winning has come from those sweeps with the best odds, so they usually couldn't be easily found with a google search.  Sweeps run by lesser-known or independent organizations often run shorter sweeps than those by the corporate giants.  The shorter the entry period, the better your odds, since everyone seems to know about those that run almost a year and are heavily advertised across the nation.

I have seen some stores give away cars (Menards, for instance) and they are always really good about advertising the last month's winner.  Sweeps sponsors should make it easy for you to find out the winner via a winner's list or link.

And while you can find many sweeps and winner's lists on your own, don't waste too much time.  A forum or user-run sweeps site or newsletter uses everyone's sweepstakes finds to compile into one place to look.  Very easy.  You can search for more user sites by doing a google search.  Just beware of spammy sites, and if you have questions, I could tell you my experience (I've used just about all of them in the past 10 years!) 

Guest's picture

Linsey, thanks for the post. Most of my friends don't know that I have been an off and on sweepstaker for the past ten years. It seems too quirky to explain. But I have won anything from movie tickets, CD's, to a Sealy Mattress and Super Bowl tickets.

It is a fun hobby as you can win things that you would not be able to afford at face value.

I have not found that I have received any extra junk mail or spam because of my hobby.

I owned a shop a gave away front-row seats a Rolling Stones concert and it was great fun to give something like that away!

Jessica Okon's picture

I haven't won anything humongus, but I've had good luck with entering contests in women's magazines. I just recently got a huge box of eye & lip pencils & I've won a purse in the past.

I think most reputable companies aren't going to spam you, just make sure you opt-out. By using my "spam" address though, I could care less.

 

Guest's picture

Great post! I love the information but am still convinced I would be the unlucky person you mentioned - I never seem to win anything! (Not that I'm complaining, I have a great life - but it would be nice to win something sometime. Hm, maybe I will start entering more sweeps after all.)

Guest's picture
Carmen

Hello, I am glad there are more women outhere like me...I enter all the women magazines every single day. I have won stuff as well. It's great. It does take a while to see the "fruits", but once you see them coming in your mailbox, you will be thankfull.

Guest's picture
Janetbass

I won the first (and only) thing I entered yesterday:  a power outlet/surge protector.  Great advice and I love your articles!

Guest's picture
Leslie

Thanks for this post. I've been sweeping for almost a year now, and I don't usually tell people about it. Then I won a trip (woo!!), and found that I was compelled to tell people I actually WON it. I was shocked by the response of many. They were convinced it was a scam... we were going to get there and they were going to try to sell us something, or make us pay for our tickets home (??). It's sad that we live in this world where people are so skeptical.

It was a fantastic trip, and we won it through an Orbitz facebook contest. I've also won several other small things. A $50 Williams-Sonoma giftcard arrived today (from a blog). I won $250 from Autozone ... it's just such a fun surprise when you get that email! :)