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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

How Canadians are winning five-figure prize hauls entering web contests

TORONTO - Erika Komori hasn't paid for clothes in about a year and rarely needs to go shopping to pick out a perfect birthday or shower gift.

In about three and a half years of entering online contests, she figures she's won about $75,000 worth of cash and prizes and has an ever-growing stash of giftable goodies. On average, she's crowned a winner of something — a gift card, clothes, a stack of books, a vacation — at least once a week.

And yet she doesn't even count herself among the more fanatical followers of online giveaways, who spend hours each day scouring the web for contests to enter.

The popular website Redflagdeals.com hosts a forum for online contests where many users have shared tales of winning five figures worth of prizes for many years.

Those who are serious about increasing their odds turn "contesting" into a part-time job and schedule time every day to enter dozens or even hundreds of sweepstakes, says Ken Wallin, a contesting veteran whose annual winnings over the past 13 years have ranged from $75 to $32,000.

His first big win was an expensive home theatre setup, which quickly convinced him it was worth the minimal effort to enter the most interesting of the contests he came across.

"It kind of got me hooked and then a few months later there was a contest a friend sent me through Reader's Digest and I won $27,000. That really got me hooked," Wallin says.

While the Internet has made it easier to enter contests — no more buying stamps and licking envelopes — the increasing use of social networks to host giveaways has turned him off.

"Nowadays they're not as simple as entering your name. Some of them are but some of them you have to post a picture, write a caption, vote and they're getting to be a real pain, I don't enter those," he says, adding he particularly dislikes contests that involve voting, which seem to bring out the worst in his fellow competitors.

"I entered a voting contest once years ago, it was to post a picture of your pet, and you wouldn't believe how mean people are because you're winning. They're thinking you're cheating and how can you get so many votes. I posted once and I never really went back."

Overall, Wallin says he's now spending way less time on entering contests than in recent years. He was just about to give up for good — then he won a $10,000 gift card for Rona.

"At the end of last year if it wasn't for that Rona win I probably would've quit all together because the year before that I had a really terrible year and up till November I had another absolutely terrible year as well, maybe just $300 worth of stuff," he says.

"It used to be I'd sit down every night for an hour ... now I do it maybe half an hour, maybe 20 minutes, maybe not ever. Sometimes I'll do it on a Sunday morning while I'm having my coffee but as for setting aside time, I don't really do it anymore like I used to."

Another Redflagdeals.com poster recently reassessed how much time they were spending on contesting. A few months of entering contests had brought in $455 worth of prizes, including a tablet, gift cards and movie tickets. But when breaking down their time invested, it only amounted to about $2.50 an hour.

But Komori, on the other hand, has no intentions of slowing down.

"I've won over 600 online contests, over $70,000 worth of free stuff, and it's just really been a huge savings on my entertainment expenses," she says, adding that she doesn't enter contests if she's not interested in the prizes.

"I'm definitely not a hoarder by any means, it's not like I have cupboards of ketchup or anything like that. I only enter the contests with prizes that might be useful to me.

"And I think now I have it down efficiently, so it only takes a half hour a day. I tell people you don't have to be retired or staying at home in order to have any success."

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