We have some legal forms we would like entrants to sign before and/or after participating in contests and sweepstakes conducted on our websites. (We authenticate before any of this, so we'll know their email address, but not necessarily their name.) We would like to avoid physical ink signatures; they add lag time from the mail. We would also prefer to avoid DocuSign type services, too, where users have to sign up for yet another website. Click-through signatures of the "check this box…" variety are too light, because they provide no assurance of identity.

So what does that leave? How can we get an affirmative acknowledgement from a user that they have read and agree to terms, know who the user is, and have it all count as a legal signature according to the American E-SIGN Act of 2000?


For the prize claim process, this is the workflow that UX and Development came up with. I wireframed for mobile, but it would be the same for desktop. While we are not collecting an electronic signature, we are getting a confirmation from the contestant.

  1. The confirmation email goes out the email address on record for the winning contestant. It contains a unique link that can't be spoofed. As long as you control the email account for the winning entry, you can confirm your prize.
  2. The confirmation click-wrap can be as simple as verifying a name, but in our case we would include 1) affidavit of eligibility, 2) release of liability, and 3) indemnification.
  3. The winners FAQ allows us to handle instructions to the winner. This can be generalized or specific to each winner.

Prize Redemption Email

Prize Certification Click-Wrap

Winner FAQ and Instructions

In the end, we decided not to use the above process for any prizes. Instead, we handle any paperwork in person, on-premises, depending on the size of the prize. Follow the below flowchart:

Prize Claim Flow


If you really need to verify a user's identity, you can do it with their email address because pretty much everyone has one and knows how to access it. So the workflow, in this case, would be to have the user enter their email address, which emails them a link to the actual form.

This has the added bonus of being a low barrier to entry - an email field is a lot less intimidating than name/address/phone-number/etc, and once they've started the workflow, I'd assume (though I'd like to see some studies on this) that they will be more likely to finish it, even though it asks for all that information in the second phase.

  • 4
    Aawww, come'on, plenty of e-mail addresses are shared between partners, not to mention plenty of people with multiple e-mail addresses that use one or more simply to avoid the risk of being spammed into oblivion. An e-mail address in and of itself doesn't mean a thing and certainly can't be said to have a 1-1 relation with a single person. Sep 12 '12 at 9:48
  • We already have an email address when they have already participated in a contest. What I'm after is an electronic signature.
    – Taj Moore
    Sep 12 '12 at 15:38

I think you have to request their full name and address.

'Terms of Service' agreements are the gold standard for this.

I've never had to do an electronic signature for anything I ever signed up for or purchased online. :)

  • Contest winnings are different than purchases. People are more likely to complain if they suspect unfair practices, and especially if they incur a tax liability from winning (that they didn't know about). Oprah overlooked this to bad effect: money.cnn.com/2004/09/22/news/newsmakers/oprah_car_tax
    – Taj Moore
    Sep 17 '12 at 17:56

An email address is generally fine as courts have upheld plain email for contracting with e-signatures, though the intent and agreement must be clearly spelled out.

Our company does Open eSignForms (both open source and commercially licensed/supported/hosted) which sends an email with a unique link to assure the right recipient. While emails can be shared, so can fax machines and mailing addresses, and emails tend to be shared less than those.

You do want to digitally sign the resulting agreement and ensure all parties have access to it to be compliant.

If more authentication is really needed (determine what level of authentication you used when it was on paper to help determine the level needed), you could give the signer a one-time password that they enter when they sign, but few really go to that extra step.

  • 2
    "We would also prefer to avoid DocuSign type services…."
    – Taj Moore
    Sep 12 '12 at 20:18
  • Saw that, but while it's a paid service, it's not like them. You get your own service and brand, rather than run on a shared service with their brand, and your users do not need to register/sign-up to use it. Sep 14 '12 at 19:04
  • I see I was too hasty. Your solution is basically a "build" solution, yes?
    – Taj Moore
    Sep 17 '12 at 18:02

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