06 July, 2011

The Dirty World Of Contesting...You Think You Can Win? Yes, But For A Price!

Most of you know all about the contest I was just in and again I thank you for your kind support in this. Through this competition, it became painfully obvious that some where cheating and all we can do is see who the judges declare the final winner.  But through this competition, I watched a woman fighting hard to win. Long story short, we became Facebook friends. Tonight she wrote a note on her page that I asked for permission to share. I must really be naive because I had no clue about the things that Edie Cato uncovered. Take a few minutes to read and become educated, as I have been.
All I can say is "Wow!"  Thanks for the info Edie, and thanks for allowing me to share your note.

Before I begin this much anticipated essay on the dirty underworld of contesting, allow me to explain a few things. First, I am not writing this because I am a "sore loser". I knew I had lost this contest well before it ended. Secondly, any reference to voting pages are not directed at any page in particular. There are some FANTASTIC vote trading pages out there and here on Facebook. And finally, I am writing this essay to expose what really goes on in "voting contests" so my friends and fellow contesters are informed and the companies and administrators who run these contests stop running these three ring circuses and go back to old fashioned judging. I also want to mention that all links posted here are easily found on Google, so this is public knowledge.
I have been a sweepstaker for 7 years. During those 7 years, I have won some amazing things including trips, cash, gift cards, electronics, toys and more. It wasn't until 2 years ago that I got a taste for voting contests. My daughter had an entry in the "Cheese Doodle" contest to win a Wii for my son, her older brother, who happens to be disabled. The company gave several Wiis away and my daughter won. However, it wasn't without alot of work "campaigning" for votes, emailing friends and family as well as returning votes for those who had voted for us. My next voting contest was for a trampoline and the next for a Tempur-pedic bed. I was blessed to have won both of those with the help of family, friends and the Facebook and sweepstaking communities. I have always chosen my voting contests by need, rather than want...after all, they take a great deal of work and countless hours on the computer.
Most recently, I saw an opportunity to try and win a family trip to Florida as well as a brand new car in the Visit Florida Sunshine Moments sweepstakes (which it was technically a contest since it is not the luck of the draw) I entered a beautiful photograph I had taken on a trip I won (through a luck of the draw sweepstakes) 4 years ago, to Florida. I thought I had a good chance at winning, although I knew it would be tough....alot more people want to win a car than a trampoline or a bed! I was psyched and ready to FIGHT to win this contest. We were in desperate need of a new vehicle due to my health and my son's. And the trip to Florida, I wanted that desperately as well since we have never had a family vacation.
Not even one week into the contest, I was in the lead but I noticed an entry screaming up on my heels quickly. The photograph was absolutely gorgeous.....so gorgeous in fact, that I felt it looked professional. I Googled the title of the photograph and it popped up in HUNDREDS of links.....on blogs....on a Canadian tourism site...and in Flick'r under the TRUE OWNERS NAME. The photograph was immediately removed from the contest. I was happy. It was unfair to me and the other participants to have a stolen photograph in the running. (I was not the one who turned the photo in)
I was still in first a week into the contest, then things started to change dramatically. Suddnely, in the blink of an eye, I was in third. I was still getting a steady influx of votes, I was still campaigning and working day and night but a few entries started moving up at the speed of light! One went from 8th to 2nd in a matter of hours.....another from 17th to 2nd in just hours.....and still another that was well on the 20-somethings that flew to 2nd in a matter of a few hours. How was this happening? How could they possibly be getting that many votes that quickly. And how was the 1st place person staying in first, set in concrete?  My mind churned and I didn't want to think it.....I didn't want to say it.......but I couldn't help but be suspicious......were they cheating? Before the contest ended, I started doing some investigating and what I learned not only disappointed me but it absolutely SHOCKED ME!
How naive was I? How long had this been going on? Why aren't companies doing something about this? How could contestants actually cheat like this and then sleep at night? 
I didn't drop out of the contest, no way, I stayed in....kicking, screaming and holding on for dear life for, at least, a top 10 finish. I wanted to prove to myself that cheaters never win. But ahhhh, they do. They get the car and the trip and I get a camera.......no sour grapes, I needed a new camera ever since I allowed the husband to take mine on a ghost hunt and it was returned to me with a sticky shutter. Nothing worse that a sticky shutter. So now I am sure you are curious as to what my little investigation turned up, right? Ahhhh, soon.......
But first, allow me to explain the general rules of voting contests, just in case you don't know. You might think you enter your essay or photograph and people browse the entires and say, "Oh this is nice, I'll give it my vote." or "Well written! He's got my votes!" No, no, no.....not even close. You can write a single run-on sentence with poor spelling and still win. You can enter a beach photo that isn't even the state asked for...but you can still win. It's all about the votes.....how many friends you have...how much time you're willing to spend.....how popular you are...what church you belong to......where you work etc. It's a numbers game.
You can trade votes on voting pages.....which is perfectly alright (as long as the rules do not state otherwise). You simply post your contest link and ask for votes. People vote for you and in return, you vote back for them. One vote for one vote....even Steven. OH! But I just learned, things aren't as cut and dry as they seem! I noticed several vote requests posted by, let's say "Jon Smith". Jon Smith posts 3 vote requests, none of them seem to be his, names don't match, nationalities don't match and Jon is obviously NOT from the US, and if he is, he's yet to learn to read or write English. So people vote down the wall for everyone, including Jon Smith and his 3 entries. Jon Smith then returns one vote per person. Now first, it's a little unfair, but secondly, Jon Smith actually is a "vote exchanger". (Can you hear the music...dun, dun dunnnnnnnnnnn)
A person who "exchanges votes" offers to give you 50 votes for your one vote. Sounds short sided on Jon's side....but no.....Jon had his own network voting for him....his own vote exchange page. So Jon gets his votes by everyone who posts on his page or through his network and he's easily returning his promise of 20-30-50 votes per person by posting them on other walls to be voted on by up to 100 or more people per day. Vote exchanging is frowned upon and is usually grounds for disqualification IF the contest administrator finds out. And you, the contester voting for Jon's many contests, is getting the short end of the stick.
Now on to the fun part of the story!! Now who wouldn't want to vote for an adorable photograph of two little girls and Cinderella at Disney World, right? It seems EVERYONE wanted to vote for that photograph.....for a little incentive. During my investigation (where I was merely trying to see what voting forums they were posting in) I found a mom blog. On this mom blog they were giving away FREE DIGITAL SCRAPBOOKING KITS! Woohoooooo! Was I excited about the freebie? No, I'm not a scrapbooker. I was, however, intrigued by the fact that these kits were being given away FOR A VOTE in a particular Florida contest. And not only that, you got one EACH TIME YOU VOTED! I retained the link and it was subsaquently turned over to the contest administrator. (Again, not by me since it was against the rules of the contest to harrass or demean any other contestant)  http://moneysavingmom.com/2011/06/free-digital-scrapbook-kit-of-your-choice.html 
 Obviously, they didn't disqualify the entry, it won first place. But the question remains, was that cheating? Is it OK to "buy" votes? Personally, I feel it is cheating, otherwise Ms. E (my alter ego and adult product blogger) would have given away much more "interesting" prizes in order to scoop up the motherload of votes. But some might jump to her defense and say, "The rules didn't state you couldn't give away an item for each vote." TRUE. The rules stated "cheating" was grounds for disqualification.....they didn't go into details..."cheating is defined by paying cash or trading merchandise, sexual favors, dog walking service, your third cousins' baby or an internal bodily organ for a vote. You cannot use proxy computers, pay a company for votes or".......let me stop right there. PAY A COMPANY FOR VOTES. 
YES....you can actually pay someone for votes! Need 500? Gotcha! Need 1,000 by a certain date? No problem! Need 5,000 votes or facebook photo "likes" in 3 weeks, spread out and from different ISP addresses? They can do that! I even found one heck of a bargain.....1,000 Facebook "likes" or votes for a mere $5!!!!! https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=115732821845938&comments 
I found a company, during the investigation, where people freelance their services for everything from SEO and website building to giving hundreds and even thousands of Facebook likes, contest votes or anything of that nature for a price. You post what you need, you set the particulars, the freelancers bid. http://www.freelancer.com
I looked around the site and searched terms like "Facebook votes" and "Facebook contest" and surely enough, there was one of my competitors, asking for bids on 1,000 votes. I looked at her profile (and she included a photo) came to the Florida photo contest and matched her Freelancer account name to her entry AND her Facebook account. Obviously her measly purchase of 1,000 votes weren't enough to contend with free scrapbooking kits.....or the other "questionable" entries that would move 3, 4 or as many as 20 places in a matter of hours. By this time, I KNEW there was no way I could win this contest, so I just dug deeper....I wanted the truth out there for all contesters to see. 
Now if you are one that wants to run right out to the site and post for a freelancer to vote for you 5,000 times.....be my guest. However, I fully intend on taking this to every company, sponsor, sweepstakes administrator and marketing company out there. I want to see voting contests ABOLISHED. Hell, if they claim they don't have the time or manpower to go through hundreds of photographs and pick a winner, heck send them to me, I'd be happy to JUDGE the contest fairly! Voting contests are no longer fair.....they are an abomination and reflect poorly on any company who chooses to run one then turn a blind eye to blatant cheating.
As a special treat to my contesting friends, I'd like to share some interesting links with you! Are you currently in a certain baby contest here on Facebook?.......look out, somebody is buying votes: http://www.freelancer.com/projects/Internet-Marketing-Anything-Goes/Baby-Photo-Contest.html  Oh and don't think just because the person on this account isn't from the USA, I learned through another contester that people from other countries frequently enter US based contests and they have "friends" here in the US to collect their prizes for them.

Sorry, I can't get the links to work after publishing....go figure! But if you take the time to copy and paste, I swear it is well worth it!
And for the rest of you contesters, I thought these links might be of interest:
And here is a list I pulled off of Google with VARIOUS Facebook contests listed from various months throught the year. Maybe you'll see the person who beat YOU out of a certain contest. Take a peek!
And please don't think this is the ONLY place out there. This type of "freelancing" is popping up everywhere! I am a fool not to have realized this earlier!
In closing, I would like to add this. I do not like cheaters. Those of us who enter sweepstakes and contests do it for the thrill and the challenge and excitement of winning. Most contesters are honest.....but I am noticing an increasing amount of people who are saying "To hell with morals and rules. I want to win and that's all that matters!" Yes, the society of instant gratification, the country of entitlement. Well this woman isn't into it. I find it morally wrong to cheat and you will never find me doing it.....EVER. And for that matter, you will never find me entering another voting contest again.
I would much rather lose, playing by the rules than win by cheating.

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