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CONSUMER ALERT: READ THE FINE PRINT BEFORE ENTERING CONTESTS AND DRAWINGS

LITTLE ROCK - Those sweepstakes and contests at fairs and festivals this fall may promise big prizes, but a few could lead to bigger headaches.

Arkansas consumers undoubtedly will have opportunities to enter drawings for gift cards, health club memberships and other "free" gifts at public events. Often, consumers can enter contests or sweepstakes at venues such as malls or retail stores, too.

Some contest entries may have a catch, though, and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued this Consumer Alert today to remind Arkansans to carefully read the terms and conditions on any entry form.

"One of the best ways for a company to obtain personal information about a consumer is a contest entry form," McDaniel said. "Consumers typically provide address, telephone and email contact information that could possibly be used later for unwanted solicitations. Always make sure you know what you're signing up for and the conditions that apply."

Consumers who read the fine print on contest or "free drawing" entry forms may discover that a completed form states that consumers waive their rights under federal and state telemarketing laws. The forms might state that, by entering the contest, the entrants confirm they are not on the "Do Not Call" registry, or that they are authorizing sales calls to be made to their phones. This "waiver" is probably not valid under the law. If you sign up for a sweepstakes and the company claims that you have waived your rights under the Do Not Call protections, contact the Attorney General's office.

Providing contact information to businesses could also open the door to more promotional materials through the mail and more unwanted "spam" email, especially if that information is sold to other advertisers. A consumer's personal information may be shared with affiliates of that company, leading to more calls from other telemarketers.

It is possible that some companies would use the entry forms as lead generators, offering spa memberships or home improvements, but only if consumers first listen to a high-pressure sales pitch. And sometimes the prize, such as a vacation or cruise, may not really be free. There could be undisclosed fees or costs.

Aside from always reading the terms and conditions, McDaniel offered these tips to consumers who consider entering contests or sweepstakes, whether through the mail, online or at a public venue:
Avoid contest promoters or businesses that refuse to provide a contact phone number or address by which you can request removal from a mailing list.
Be skeptical of any promoter that asks for money as a "processing" fee in order to claim a prize. Legitimate contests and sweepstakes do not require consumers to pay money or buy something to enter a contest.
Never disclose your checking account or credit-card number over the phone to callers who inform you've won a prize or sweepstakes.
Consumers who receive notices of sweepstakes wins by bulk-rate mail probably are not winners; and consumers should be wary of telemarketers who promise winnings from contests that consumers do not remember entering.
For more information about this or consumer-related issues, visit the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division website, www.GotYourBackArkansas.org, or call the Consumer Protection Hotline at (501) 682-2341, or toll-free at (800) 482-8982.

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