4. Check the reputation and any complaints filed against the contest organizer with the Better Business Bureau and/or your state attorney general or state consumer protection office.
5. In a skill contest, gauge the difficulty. If it seems too easy, the hard truth is that it's likely a scam.
6. Told you're "lucky" or "guaranteed" to win something? Those words are usually illegal. So is, typically, the use of simulated checks or items of value unless they bear the words "SPECIMEN" or "NON-NEGOTIABLE."
7. Think twice about entry forms mailed by bulk rate. You typically have a needle-in-a-haystack chance of winning anything significant in mass mailings.
8. Don't call a provided phone number for contest details unless you've checked the contest's authenticity with an online search. Avoid any numbers with a 900 area code, which generate high per-minute charges. But be aware that some conning contests have you call toll-free 800 numbers, where you're then told to call a 900 number.
Still others may provide area codes that seem to be domestic American codes but in fact are for foreign countries, meaning you'll run up high long-distance charges. You can check a code's location by typing it and the words "area code" into an Internet search engine.
9. Avoid email or online contest entries unless they're at a trusted company website. Signing up at a public location or event can risk identity theft or your contact information being sold to telemarketers.
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.
Also of interest: Ignore phony AARP gift card offers.