Cheating. It means acting dishonestly in order to gain an advantage. To avoid any doubt, an advantage in the context of prize promotions is a prize – a restaurant or retailer voucher, a gaming console, a year’s supply of a particular product, a holiday (back in the day when we could take holidays) and, yes, a car. I want to start a discussion about prize promotions cheats.
At Prizeology we run prize promotions on behalf of our clients and it’s part of our role to ensure those prize promotions are run fairly. In fact, it’s more than our role, it’s our responsibility. We write terms and conditions that adhere to the ASA’s CAP Code and set out the rules of a promotion, and we check that entrants abide by those rules.
That’s our responsibility to our clients, but it’s also our responsibility to the people who enter those promotions. Let’s take as an example a promotion which, according to the terms and conditions, permits only one entry per person.
Where’s the harm?
If entrant A makes multiple entries then entrant A is cheating. OK, you might say that doesn’t hurt anyone. Surely, it’s a victimless crime? Well, it hurts our client, because they’re less likely to achieve the objectives of their promotion, but more significantly it hurts other entrants. If entrant A is cheating, it affects the chances that entrant B, and entrants C, D and E, have of winning – and that simply isn’t fair.
On each promotion we run, we ensure our terms and conditions are clear. We build anti-fraud measures into our microsites. We check databases and we comb through entries manually if necessary. We verify entries, asking for proof of identity and, if relevant, proof of purchase. We look for entry patterns and we contact entrants who arouse our suspicions.
In other words, we do everything we can to identify the cheats. And do you know what we find? You may or may not be surprised to hear this, but it’s the same names, the same pseudonyms, the same emails and the same postal addresses that tend to crop up. And when we do our due diligence on the next promotion, those same names come up again. How do we know? Because we recognise them.
Calling out fraud
Of course, sometimes an entrant fails to read the terms and conditions properly, and enters a prize promotion twice when that isn’t permitted, but I’m not talking about those entrants who make a genuine, one-off mistake. What I’m talking about is the persistent cheats.
These are the people who send in multiple illegal entries using never-ending variants on their own name – Edward, Ed, Eddy, Ted, Teddy – or enter using the names of every single one of their extended family, including their wife’s aunt’s husband’s stepfather. They’re deliberately trying to circumvent the rules and increase their chances of winning, and they’re not just cheating. When they do actually win a prize it’s stealing, because they haven’t won it fairly.
Actually, I would describe it as fraud and theft, but at this point I have to call in a lawyer, because I want to be certain I’m correct on this. So I put the scenario I’ve described above to our lawyer Janine Patterson. Janine’s legal expertise includes data protection and consumer law, and she told me:
“Yes, this is fraud, which is a criminal offence under the Fraud Act 2006. There are a number of ways to commit fraud, but in these circumstances this is a fraud by false representation. This individual is dishonestly making a false representation, that they are different people, in order to enter a promotion where entry is restricted to one entry per person only. They know the representation is untrue and they intend to make a gain for themselves or others by increasing their chances of winning the prize or prizes.”
Janine’s comments helped me focus on an issue that has concerned me for a long time. Realistically I’m sure some of these fraudsters go undetected, but we do identify many of them and I’m sure other agencies do as well. I know the same culprits come up time and time again, and I’m willing to bet that they are fraudulently entering promotions run by other prize promotion agencies, too.
So shouldn’t we be circulating this information within the prize promotions industry? Shouldn’t we be pooling our intelligence, so that we can tackle this type of fraud more effectively? As well as the obvious question of fairness, the reputation of the whole sector is at stake here.
Of course, I’m well aware that I have a responsibility about how I share data, too – at Prizeology we’re scrupulous about how we look after the personal details of the people who enter our promotions –I went back to Janine (she’s very patient) and asked for her perspective. She said:
“The industry has a responsibility to help stop this widespread criminal activity. Promoters should and need to be able to share the data about these individuals. The GDPR does not prevent this sharing, and fraudsters should not expect to hide behind data protection laws and continue to profit from their criminal acts.”
Fraud needs a consistent approach, it would be more efficient for all our businesses and, fundamentally, it’s the right and moral thing to do. Do get in touch if you agree.
Sarah Burns is Prizeology’s Chief Prizeologist. She sits on the Fraud Women’s Network steering committee and is a National Trading Standards Scams Team Scambassador. She is committed to protecting consumers from promotional fraud.
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