How to Recognize and Avoid Publishers Clearing House Scams

  • By Steven
  • Published: Apr 29, 2024
  • Last Updated: May 04, 2024

 

The Publishers Clearing House (PCH) appeared in 1967, promoting magazine subscriptions, merchandise, time-share vacations, and their famous cash prize sweepstakes. Since 67’ over 11 million people have won PCH sweepstakes, totaling over $593 million in cash winnings. More people than ever have entered the PCH sweepstakes, looking for their chance to win thousands - sometimes millions - of dollars overnight.

Even those who don’t know what PCH does know about their cash prizes; when a winner strikes it big, with a $15 million win or a $5,000 a week for life prize, PCH sends out a “Prize Patrol” to congratulate the winner. They hop out of a car with a cameraperson, pull a giant check out of the back seat, and wrestle bouquets of balloons and roses up to the front door of the winner. They knock on the winner’s door, film the family’s reactions, and all of it gets slapped together and plastered across CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC.

Prize Patrols are part of the reason the PCH is a household name, as commercials showing past winners have aired on cable television since the 60s. Consequently, participants enter over 6.2 billion submissions on average for the biggest prizes, and the more money they put up for the sweepstakes, the bigger turnout they incur; with so many people fighting for the chance to win the equivalent of a mega lottery, it should be no surprise when criminals begin to stalk them for a quick—but lucrative—payday. 

If you think you’ve won a PCH prize but haven’t seen the Prize Patrol (or received a letter), you could become a victim of fraud. It’s important to recognize PCH fraud, including the most common tactics scammers use to impersonate the sweepstakes giant and steps to take to protect yourself before and after interacting with a potential fraudster.

 Publishers Clearing House Scams

Understanding Publishers Clearing House Scams

There are various types of PCH scams, but their success depends on how much a potential victim knows about PCH, how fast the potential victim takes action, and how well the potential victim can spot the signs of a scammer.

  • How much do you know about PCH? They’ll never notify you of winnings unless they involve the Prize Patrol or a certified letter (winnings under $600). If anyone contacts you about collecting winnings another way, like over the phone, text, or via email or social media, it’s a scam. The same goes for those who contact you and request a “fee” to collect winnings; PCH will never ask for money of any kind.
  • Have you been told there is limited time to collect winnings? Scammers have their biggest paydays when they trick potential victims into instant compliance. Where some malicious actors might emotionally manipulate their targets, PCH scammers depend on potential victims not verifying who they are speaking to before disclosing personal information, similar to phishing scams.
  • Can you spot the signs of a scammer? Poor grammar and odd phrases, limited knowledge about a subject, appeals to emotion or empathy, coercion and extortion, requests for information or gift cards, pressure to pay a “fee” to obtain winnings, and more are trademarks of a scammer. The more you learn about these threats, the easier they are to spot and avoid them.

Is Publishers Clearing House a Scam?

Since scammers can impersonate any organization, is Publishers Clearing House real? How do we know? PCH, the authentic one, is a real organization that promotes its wares via its sweepstakes competitions. According to its FAQ, it awards anywhere between $3 and $13 million in an average year, with prizes handed out almost monthly and big awards being given three times a year.

Of course, giving out millions of dollars annually isn’t the only way to demonstrate PCH’s authenticity. PCH has a diverse past, with periods of both villainy and heroism. In the 90s, PCH hit the headlines of news reports after being found to have misled their consumers about their chances of winning the big prizes. Decades later—last year—the Federal Trade Commission brought charges against PCH, continuing the misleading practice in a different format.

In other words, PCH is a legitimate sweepstakes lottery, with various prizes from $100 to millions, and while they are a hero to those who win the prize, they can also be a villain to those in desperation.

How Do Publishers Clearing House Scams Work?

Most PCH scammers are after personal information, which they can use for identity fraud or impersonation, or financial profits, which can take the form of bank account numbers, gift cards, or other valuables. These scammers choose their victims by confirming that the potential victim did enter the sweepstakes (i.e., through social media posts or comments) or by purchasing names from data breaches and launching scattered communications (i.e., text or social media messages or phone calls).

Seniors and those in desperation are particularly high-risk targets for these scammers; they depend on people’s emotions usurping reason and caution. They can trick a victim into compliance with their requests in many ways:

  • The impersonation of authority: some scammers might confirm the identity of a PCH representative and use that as a mask to manipulate potential victims.
  • The appeal of promises: scammers looking for a long-term target might offer massive cash prizes, keeping their victim on a short leash and demanding fees.
  • The coercion of cash: others might request personal information or the payment of fees before the “reward” is released, and some can get aggressive for it.
  • The spoofing of PCH’s website: some tech-savvy scammers can create a mimicked PCH website and send out communications about it; however, after someone submits their information, the malicious actor has everything they need about a victim, much like money mule scams and information phishing attacks.

How to Quickly Spot a PCH Scam 

Do you remember entering the sweepstakes? Some scammers rely on a person’s bad memory to deceive them into thinking they won a prize, especially if the potential victim is a senior. These scams can be easily avoided by recording when you enter the sweepstakes. If that fails, the rule is to assume it’s a scam. They’ll ensure you get it if you’ve won a prize from PCH.

How did you receive the notice of reward? PCH has only two methods for contacting the winners of prizes: a physical check sent by mail and the Prize Patrol. If you’ve received a call, text, message, or any other communication claiming that you’ve won, it’s a clear scam. However, some scammers have impersonated PCH reward letters, which must be double- and triple-checked for authenticity.

Does the notice say you must pay or contact someone to collect the winnings? PCH is an actual sweepstakes, which means its process is always free, from entry to prize collection. Moreover, the only people a winner would see during the process is the Prize Patrol—communications requiring that an individual pay or speak with someone about the collection are massive indicators of a scam in action.

Is the winning notice time-sensitive or threatening? Every prize winner wants their hands on the pot as soon as possible—but scammers can increase this desire by adding time-sensitive qualities to their messages. They might say that the “winner” has only 24 hours to collect their prize or that neglecting to collect the reward in time would disqualify a person from obtaining their prize. PCH rewards are not time-restricted, nor are disqualifying elements in their process.

 Does the notice indicate the correct contact information? Some scammers might offer a big prize, no fees, no gimmicks, and an authentic-looking letter, but these notices aren’t what they seem. They encourage prize winners to contact PCH if there are questions—and there are always questions—engineered by the scammer. Before calling the phone number on the letter, double-check that it’s correct (1-800-566-4724). If not, you could be getting on the phone with a scammer.

Protecting Yourself from Scams

The best ways to protect yourself from falling victim to a PCH scam are to learn about the threats that stalk PCH participants, exercise skepticism, and verify everything before committing to someone’s claims. Before complying with someone’s request to collect a PCH prize, verify that the individual is an authentic representative of a PCH, including looking for their social media presence. Moreover, take active steps to avoid giving out your personal information, valuing caution and skepticism over a quick payday.

Protecting Yourself from Scams

Verifying Contact

  • PCH will only notify winners by mail or in person. All other forms of communication are scams fabricated by fraudsters.
  • Communications claiming to be from PCH should include the correct phone number for Customer Service: 1-(800)-566-4724. All other numbers cannot be trusted.
  • Letters from PCH include their postal address: Publishers Clearing House, 101 Winners Circle, Jericho, NY, 11753. All other addresses are fraudulent.

Safeguarding Personal Information

To protect your personal information offline, shred essential documents like bank statements, pay with cash wherever feasible, keep vital documents like passports in safe places, travel with only one or two payment cards, use caution when submitting PINs on keypads, and turn off location tracking on traveling devices and apps.

To protect your personal information online, avoid answering unsolicited messages from strangers, do not post or advertise your day-to-day activities, enable multi-factor authentication on all accounts, avoid using public free Wi-Fi options, keep a small list of friends when possible, and never participate in Internet quizzes.

Responding to Suspected Publishers Clearing House Scam 

Suppose you’ve encountered a PCH scam and recognized it as a scheme. In that case, the most important thing is not interacting with the contact—although reporting the scam is also vital for the security of those around you and the PCH community more broadly. However, if you’ve encountered a PCH scam and did not recognize it as a scheme, the most important thing is notifying the right people to facilitate damage control.

Reporting Channels

  • Notify the Publishers Clearing House that a scammer is impersonating them. You can call PCH’s Customer Service at 1 (800)-566-4724 or complete their online form.
  • Notify the Federal Trade Commission that a scammer is lurking around your community. You can complete their fraud report forms online anytime.
  • If the scam appeared in a physical letter, notify the United States Postal Inspection Service. You can submit a mail fraud report online.

The Publishers Clearing House is a household name, synonymous with life-changing cash lotteries—and those who participate in these sweepstakes may be targeted by opportunistic scammers looking for personal and financial information to abuse. However, many scams are easily discovered, particularly over the phone, text, email, and social media. Potential victims can mitigate most scams by practicing vigilance, being skeptical of the people they meet online, and using caution when interacting with others.

If you or someone you know participates in the PCH sweepstakes, share this content with them. It will spread awareness of these threats and help fortify the community against those same actors.

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