Most of us gave up on sweepstakes around the time we realized Publisher's Clearinghouse would never appear toting that giant check. Turns out, though, there's an entire online community dedicated to the dark arts of successful "sweeping." Basically, you've got to treat it like an especially demanding part-time job.

Racked has a deep-dive on the phenomenon, which is booming thanks to social-media giveaways. "Sweepers" are often stay-at-home moms or part-timers looking to supplement their income, because it's really a numbers game. It takes time (LOTS of time), but somebody's got to win and if you enter enough contests, you're bound to get something:

"It's kind of like the gym in January," explains Carolyn Wilman, who runs the site Contest Queen. "To win steady, you have to enter steady. You can't go to the gym three times and go, 'Wow, I haven't lost 20 pounds.' People do that. They go, 'Well, I entered three contests and I didn't win.' Really? I entered 3,000 this month and I won five prizes. You do the math."

It's not as simple as throwing your hat into as many rings as possible, though. For instance, it behooves you to keep a low profile as a sweeper:

That doesn't mean they don't also have strategies for downplaying how much they sweep. Never having an e-mail address that includes the word "sweeps" is tip number one (that rules out my plan of registering "heather.schweeps," a play on my last name). Cunningham advises, "Whenever you enter from Facebook, you really want to make your page look like a consumer's. I keep a clean profile because sometimes sponsors will investigate and search people's profiles."

But the determined (and lucky) are often rewarded: Racked spoke to women who'd won cars, cash, vacations. Of course, not everything is worth accepting: "If it comes down to a trip, it's got to be something that's once-in-a-lifetime, because the value of most of them is just not worth the taxes," said one frequent entrant. And some of the prizes are just plain dumb. One sweeper admitted she'd once won a bacon-scented iPhone alarm clock. Can't do much with that.

Image via AP.