I often receive emails asking me to do something in exchange of potentially getting some prize (e.g. Amazon Gift Card).

Example 1:

A great bonus is that if you download Riffiti in the next 48 hours from receiving this email, you could win a $100 Amazon Gift Card. 

Example 2:

Attend the session this Thursday 3pm-5pm in 32-124. Refreshments will be served. You can also win a couple giftcards by responding via their google doc!

Example 3:

The study involves completing a 20-45 minute online questionnaire. You will have the opportunity to enter a lottery to win a $250 Amazon.com gift card.

Example 4:

Teams that come up with the best plan will be entered into a lottery to win an extra $20 Amazon gift card.

Example 5:

Bring Your Own Mug and Win a $10 Gift Card from Flour - Everyone who brings their own mug and helps to reduce waste can enter a raffle for a $10 flour gift card.

Example 6:

If you fill this form, we'll enter you in raffle for several $50 Amazon gift cards.

Are senders obliged to actually gave the announced prize to someone? Or can they simply have no prize at all?

Assumes that everything happens in the United States, and more specifically in California or in Massachusetts.

3 Answers 3


In California, this is automatically a violation of section 17539.1(a)(7) of the Business and Professions Code:

(a) The following unfair acts or practices undertaken by, or omissions of, any person in the operation of any contest or sweepstakes are prohibited:

(7) Failing to award and distribute all prizes of the value and type represented.

  • As rumor has it, prizes usually are distributed, but often to family members.
    – jvb
    May 1, 2021 at 8:42

Can't help with those jurisdictions, if done in Australia without a prize there would be a clear breach of Australian Consumer Law regarding "deceptive or misleading conduct in trade or commerce" if there was no prize or the prize was not actually given away. In addition, trade promotion lotteries are required to be registered in each state or territory where they are offered with the respective government gambling authority.


Oversight is key. If the server is in a lax jurisdiction, they are covered by the literal interpretation of "might" or or "could" or "chance". As with sideshow attractions, yahtzee rolling or the like it is possible nobody will win. Most jurisdictions will insist there is a fair chance. Even with lotto there is no guarantee someone will win, right ? Hence jackpots.

Anything on the internet should be taken with a pinch of salt unless you absolutely trust the spruiker. Even "guarantees" from big brands are to limit their exposure and are not designed to protect the consumer.

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