Beware holiday sweepstakes promos

Your Money

November 19, 2006|By Carolyn Bigda | Carolyn Bigda,Tribune Media Services

How would you like to win $100,000 just for swiping a credit card? Or receive a $1,000 gift card for writing a review of a product you purchased online?

Most anyone would say yes, especially in light of the oodles of sugarplums and other gifts you might need to purchase this holiday season.

That's one reason retailers, including Macy's, Kohl's and TJ Maxx, and credit card associations, such as Visa and MasterCard, have rolled out the traditional holiday sweepstakes offers, giving shoppers a chance to win cash prizes or gift cards.

Visa, for example, is running a promotion in which 10 cardholders could win $100,000 each just for using their debit or credit card by Dec. 31.

The more times you swipe, the more times you'll be entered to win - an obvious tactic to persuade shoppers to use their Visa cards, instead of cash or a competitive brand of plastic.

Michael Rolnick, a Visa spokesman, said, "It's a usage-based effort: We'd love people to use the Visa card for everyday purposes."

The risk, of course, is that you'll overspend because it's plastic and charge more than you can afford to pay off.

The most common promotion requires shoppers to register for the sweepstakes online, by mail or at a store location. (Visa also is running an "Instant Win" game, which requires registration.)

In turn for giving your name and contact information, you become eligible to win a prize - and in many cases, the opportunity to receive e-mails from the company about future sales.

If you don't want your name placed on marketing lists, but you're still tempted by the prospect of free money, you'll need to scrutinize the fine print. Here are some questions to keep in mind.

How much personal information is required?

In most cases, you'll have to provide your name, e-mail address, birth date and state of residence.

Your name and e-mail address are needed for the retailer or credit card association to contact you. And for most sweepstakes, you must be a certain age and a U.S. citizen.

To minimize the amount of data a company has on you, provide only required information, often flagged by an asterisk.

How will your information be used?

To learn whether the company will use your name, e-mail address and other personal data, you'll need to read a company's privacy policy, which often is linked at the bottom of the home Web page.

The policy is as exciting to read as your credit card's terms and conditions, but it outlines whether your contact information will be shared with another company (often referred to as a third party) and how to opt out.

Most of the retailers I spoke with do not give out shoppers' personal information, but you should read through a company's policy.

Also, check whether the sweepstakes is operated by a company other than the retailer. If so, you'll be subject to that company's privacy policy as well.

What obligations are there if you win?

Keep in mind that the retailer will alert Uncle Sam of your fortune, and you'll have to pay the appropriate taxes.

In addition, most companies reserve the right to use some of your personal information for publicity about the contest.

Carolyn Bigda writes for Tribune Media Services.

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