A free Wii? Read the fine print

Who doesn't like getting something for free? I certainly l do. So do a lot of folks. That's why there's no end to the number of contests people can enter online. It seems like every other day I get emails notifying me that I've won some sweepstakes or another. I've even been the "lucky winner" of sweepstakes and contests from places as remote as Ireland and China (even though I've never been to any of those places and sure haven't entered any of their sweepstakes).

Of course I'm not alone. Millions of people have received the same emails, which are generally scams to dupe people out of their money. I ignore those emails, but many people don't.

There are a lot of legitimate contests and sweepstakes sponsored by all kinds of companies and organizations. About.com has a comprehensive listing of contests. I've also won a couple freebies in the past. That's why when I saw an ad on Facebook that said "Win a Wii Fit," I clicked on it to see if it was legit.

I was taken to a site that asked me to enter my email . Then I was taken to a page where I was asked for my contact information, even though it wasn't really clear what I had to do to get a Wii fit. I chose not to provide my contact information but scrolled through the fine print at the bottom of the page. There I saw a link to the terms and conditions, a section that many people skip when entering online contests.

The terms and conditions link took me to a site that required me to register for a membership and answer surveys to receive rewards. After the sponsor of the promotion verifies that you have completed all the requirements of their offer -- which the fine print said takes about four weeks -- you must complete and mail in an affidavit of eligibility and W-9 form to claim the prize.

The rewards site has a variety of sponsor offers that people can apply for, but the sample offers I saw really didn't seem to be free. Some were for credit cards. Others required activating memberships to receive DVD rentals for a monthly fee (after a free trial period) or a certain number of CDs at reduced rates (plus shipping) before the monthly fee kicked in. One offer was for a free trial to a language learning program before the subscription fee of $78.41 a month kicked in, plus shipping.

While the offers I saw appear to be from legitimate companies -- some that I've heard of -- it's too bad the offer for the free Wii wasn't more upfront about being an ad for a website that requires you to take surveys to qualify for rewards programs.

I chose not to pursue the Wii offer further and have no idea if I would have even receive a Wii if I had. But my experience shows that it really pays to read the fine print before providing your personal information to enter any contest or sweepstakes.

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