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What to Expect After You Win Sweepstakes

What Do You Do After You Win a Prize?

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Are you wondering what happens after you win a prize? Find out what to expect, so you can recognize when something is off (and might be a sweepstakes scam) and so that you can be sure not to let any real wins pass you by.

1. Receive Your Win Notification

Picture of a lot of prizes.
Image © C Squared Studios / Getty Images
In most cases, the first sign that you'll get that you've won is a win notification. Find out how winners are usually contacted.

2. Read Your Win Notification Carefully

Be sure to read your win notification carefully. It might tell you that you don't need to do anything else, and that the prize will arrive soon. On the other hand, you might need to take additional steps before you'll receive your prize.

3. Verify Your Win

Before you get too excited, it's a good idea to make sure that the win notification is legitimate, and not a sweepstakes scam. If you have any doubt that it might not be a real win, check out how to verify your sweepstakes prizes.

4. Record Your Sweepstakes Prize

This is a good time to record your sweepstakes prize before you forget the details. Your win notification will usually include the information you'll want to track, including the sponsor's name, the sweepstakes name, what you've won, and the date that the prize is expected to arrive.

5. Fill Out an Affidavit (If Required)

Many win notifications will include an affidavit that you'll be expected to fill out and return before you'll receive your prize. An affidavit verifies your information and gives the sponsor the information they'll need to fulfill their tax obligations. Read more about why sponsors need affidavits.

Don't be surprised if the affidavit asks for your social security number - this is not a sign of a sweepstakes scam. (Find out why sponsors need social security numbers.)

6. Get Your Affidavit Notarized (If Required)

Many times, sponsors will require that an affidavit be notarized before it's returned to them. This helps them verify that your information is correct, and you really are eligible to win the prize. If you're not familiar with notaries in your area, see where to find notaries for affidavits.

7. Return Your Affidavit (If Required)

You want to be very sure to return your affidavit by the deadline that the sponsor imposes. A delay could result in forfeiting your prize.

It's a good idea to send your affidavit by certified mail, so that you have proof that you sent it on time. Sometimes, sponsors will also allow you to fax a copy of the affidavit, so that they have your information even if the letter is lost.

8. Follow Up with the Sponsor

Many sweepers have suffered heartbreak because they thought their affidavit was safely returned, but the sponsor never received it. It's a good idea to call or send the sponsors a letter or an email after a reasonable amount of time has passed, to verify that the affidavit was actually received.

If the sponsor doesn't hear back from you, they might assume you don't qualify or don't want the prize and award it to someone else. Once the prize has been awarded, you usually won't receive it, even if the affidavit was lost.

9. Send a Thank-You Note

Sending the sponsor a thank-you letter telling them how much you appreciate the contest, and how excited you are about winning, is a nice courtesy. It makes the sponsors feel good, and it could encourage them to hold more sweepstakes -- or to go the extra mile fulfilling your prize.

In her book, You Can't Win if You Don't Enter, Carolyn Wilman relates how a sponsor included a bunch of extra prizes with a win, because Carolyn was so polite and so excited when she was notified of her prize. Read about some more ways to be a considerate sweeper.

10. Watch For Your Win

I've won some great prizes that I never received, and I never followed up on them because I wasn't paying enough attention. If you tracked your wins in a spreadsheet, you should have a basic idea when they are expected to arrive.

Note that it's pretty common that prizes arrive well after their expected date. But if it's been a few weeks past the due date and the prize still hasn't shown up, contact the sponsor to follow up. There may be a mix-up with your prize, or it might be lost in the mail. Oftentimes, the sponsor can straighten out the problem, once they know about it.

11. Sur-Prizes

Of course, there is also a very nice exception to all of this work - sur-prizes, sweepstakes prizes that just show up in the mail without any fanfare (and sometimes without even an explanation of where they come from!). These are among my favorite types of prizes, because I love having surprises just show up at my door.

But remember, in the U.S., sponsors are required by law to declare any prizes they award to the IRS if those prizes are worth more than $600. To do so, they need an affidavit before they release the prize. So if you receive, for example, a large check in the mail, the chances are that it's not a sur-prize, but rather a sweepstakes check scam.

12. Pay Your Taxes

Don't fall for that old $600 Sweepstakes Myth. If you live in the US, sweepstakes prizes big and small, even those valued at less than $60need to be listed on your tax return. Read How to Pay Your Sweepstakes Taxes for details on how to be sure you're obeying the law (and not overpaying).
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