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Pair Who Cheated Coca Cola Out of $200,000 in Sweepstakes Prizes Plead Guilty, Get Sentenced

By February 26, 2013

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Last summer, I wrote an article about Sarah and Carrie Jones, who were accused of defrauding Coca Cola's Text Twist Win Sweepstakes 2011 out of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of prizes. Now, according to an news article in the Gazette Times, the mother-daughter pair has plead guilty to committing the fraud.

The daughter plead guilty to felony computer crime and identity theft, and the mother to felony computer crime. Neither will serve jail time, but the two will be on probation for two years, and will pay $48,000 in restitution to Coca Cola.

I'm very glad to hear about cheaters being caught and penalized, because some people seem to think that cheating sweepstakes is some kind of a game. Cheating is not a game, and it's unfair to the company sponsoring the sweepstakes and to the people who play by the rules. It can be harmful to the entire sweepstakes hobby. And now we know, it can also be illegal.

Here's the original article from last July:

Pair Accused of Cheating Coca Cola Sweepstakes Out of $200,000 in Prizes

From May through September of 2011, Coca Cola gave people the chance to win tens of thousands of prizes in the 2011 Text Twist Win Sweepstakes. Now, a mother-daughter pair in Albany, Oregon has been accused of cheating that sweepstakes out of up to $200,000 in prizes, according to a news report.

The game worked by issuing sweepstakes codes under the cap of bottles of Coca Cola products (there was also an online portion of the game). You could text your code to Coca Cola and, if it was a winner, you would receive gift codes free movies, discounts on flights, free concert tickets, and more. The accused mother and daughter, who were both unemployed, then turned around and sold the prizes they received for cash.

There was a limit of two wins per person and five wins per household. To get around that limit, the pair created email addresses under fake names, including the president's. This was easier to do, since the prizes weren't actually mailed to a physical address.

Coca Cola has verified $40,000 worth of stolen prizes, and they suspect that Carrie and Sarah Jones could have racked up $200,000 in stolen goods. These are prizes that would otherwise have been won by legitimate entrants, cheating sweepstakes fans who played by the rules out of the rewards they deserved.

So far, it is unknown how the pair were able to get so many winning codes, but investigation is continuing. Meanwhile, the mother and daughter are both accused of criminal counts of aggravated theft, identity theft and computer crime.

Every so often, a big sweepstakes gets hacked, and cheaters walk away with prizes. The scandal surrounding McDonald's Monopoly Game is one example. Taco Bell had a problem with cheaters gaming one of their sweepstakes. And in 2010, Kmart had to suspend a sweepstakes because of cheating.

But that doesn't mean that it's not worth entering sweepstakes. I personally won through Coke's Text Twist Win Sweepstakes and many others over the years. While cheaters' methods get more sophisticated, so do the tools to catch them. And most sweepstakes are able to catch and eliminate cheaters' entries without them affecting the giveaway.

What do you think about the scam? Do stories like these discourage you from entering sweepstakes? Do you think the punishment fit the crime? Click on the "comments" link below to share your thoughts.

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February 26, 2013 at 3:05 pm
(1) Vikki P says:

Wow! I am always amazed at the lengths people will go to. This won’t stop me from entering, I have won some great prizes and met nice people without cheating or other unfair practices over the past couple of years. Karma.

February 26, 2013 at 3:20 pm
(2) Greg M. says:

They pled guilty to two counts of “computer crime”? What in the world is that?? What is so special about computers? How about just prosecuting them under plain old fraud?

And “identity theft”? If I create an email address using the president’s name (barack.obama@hotmail.com), I’ve engaged in identity theft? A felony??? Holy smokes.

February 26, 2013 at 4:35 pm
(3) Christine M says:

I think it is crap for those of us who play fair. I remember when BK had that sweep last year for xbox’s and there were TONS of cheaters winning on that one. After a few days they finally changed the game. Cheaters never prosper although with no jail time I guess they did.

February 26, 2013 at 6:07 pm
(4) Cathleen Clark says:

I want to know exactly how they defrauded the Coca Cola game. That takes amazing sophistication and knowledge of many factors. How did two unemployed women from Albany, NY figure this out? It just seems that there is more to the story than they are telling us. I don’t believe these two masterminds figured this out without assistance from someone who was very computer savvy.

February 26, 2013 at 6:13 pm
(5) David says:

Seems like a severe enough crime to warrant at least a few months in jail. They got off light in my opinion.

February 26, 2013 at 7:29 pm
(6) Viclen says:

You can set up an email under any name, but when you commit a crime with it, you have comiitted identity theft.

February 27, 2013 at 10:12 am
(7) Greg M. says:

Viclen: I don’t agree. Ask any of the people whose names were used if they felt in any way harmed. I bet that to this day they have no idea their names were even used.

I’m not saying these people shouldn’t have been prosecuted. (Though with a FELONY??? I’d prefer several months and a misdemeanor than a felony. Goodbye job prospects!). It just sounds to me like the prosecutors “knew” these people did *something* bad, and they were determined to find any law (applicable or not) to punish them.

That’s not the rule of law.

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