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The Allure Of Online Contests

If you've been online recently, you may have seen or even entered a contest or sweepstakes. They are everywhere, from one site that is actually a search engine (using contests as a hook to gain more users) to the familiar mailbox staple in direct marketing. Another contest site challenges its subscribers to write essays for cash.

John Quain, a contributing editor for Fast Company magazine, visited CBS News This Morning to talk about online contests. is a site that CBS has backed with $30 million. The site, which is an Internet portal, uses contests to bring people to the site in the hope that they will eventually use it for all of their Web search needs. is giving away $10,000 a day, $1 million a month and $10 million a year.

Here's how it works: You register on the home page at no charge. Each time you return to the site to begin a search, you enter your member number and that gives you another chance to win. The limit of entries is 100 per day.

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For another view of the wired world, click here to see a feature about online chess.

On the first day of the drawing, the site had only 10,000 entries, so the odds were quite good. By the end of last week, it had 70,000. So, the more popular the site becomes, the more difficult your chances to win.

Publishers Clearing House also has a Web site where you can enter its annual drawing, the same one advertised in its mailings. (The odds of winning are 1 in 50,000,000.) But the Web site also offers contests just for online users, in which you can win anything from a portable radio to lower cash prizes.

Another site,, likens itself to an online magazine, where you pay a monthly or annual subscription fee. Each subscriber can then enter the various writing contests. The winner either wins a cash prize or collects points toward a cash prize. The winner here is not random (as on iWON or Publishers Clearing House). Instead, the winner is selected by a committee whose members evaluate the entries.

Caution is the key word when entering an online contest. Here are some safety tips:

  • Do not divulge your credit card number to enter a sweepstakes.
  • Do not divulge your Social Security number.
  • Remember: If you enter your name and address, you may be subjecting yourself to unwanted mail offers and emails. Many sites have disclosure information available and every consumer should read them.
To help research an online contest, see the National Fraud Information Center Web site.
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