Did You Actually Win a Publishers Clearing House Prize? How to Spot a Sweepstakes Scam

Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes offer lucky winners luxury prizes and cash awards ranging from a few thousand dollars to millions. Here’s how to tell if you’ve actually won big or are dealing with a sweepstakes scam.
We may receive compensation from the products and services mentioned in this story, but the opinions are the author's own. Compensation may impact where offers appear. We have not included all available products or offers. Learn more about how we make money and our editorial policies.

Publishers Clearing House is a legitimate company that awards winners with lavish prizes like vacations and vehicles in addition to one-time cash prizes and for-life weekly cash giveaways. But with big prizes come big scams.

Some scammers pretend you’re a winner to collect your personal information via phishing tactics. Others pose as PCH reps to trick you into sending them money to cover “taxes,” “processing or handling fees,” or “shipping costs” before you can claim your cash prize.

Learn how to spot a Publishers Clearing House scam, what to do if you’re a victim of a PCH scam, and how to protect your identity from future fraud.

In this article
What is the Publishers Clearing House scam?
Is Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes legitimate?
How to avoid Publishers Clearing House scams
What to do if you suspect a Publishers Clearing House scam
Publishers Clearing House scams FAQs
Bottom line: Don’t get swept away by sweepstakes scams

What is the Publishers Clearing House scam?

The Publishers Clearing House (PCH) scam is a deceptive practice where fraudsters impersonate PCH representatives to deceive individuals into believing they’ve won a sweepstakes. It’s mostly aimed at older adults, but anyone can fall for these scams.

Typically, the target receives a phone call, text, or email telling them they’ve won a large amount of money. The catch is that the winner is required to send payment upfront to cover the cost of “taxes” or other shipping and handling fees. Scammers may pose as official reps and directly request that the fake winners wire money to a faux PCH account to claim their prize. Scammers may also request payment via gift cards or money transfers through apps like Venmo or PayPal.

Another example of fraud is a scammer posing as a contest promoter. They may deceptively try to sell you “better odds” at winning the prize for additional entries or other costly means to increase your chances. This proposal isn’t real, and the scammers are simply trying to buy into your high hopes of winning for their own profit.

Scams more often occur over the telephone than via mail. This is because mail fraud penalties are more severe. The penalties for mail fraud can be a fine of up to $1 million and imprisonment for up to 30 years. So while sending mail costs money, scamming someone via phone costs little. This doesn’t mean that if you receive something in the mail you’re in the clear, though. Sometimes, scammers mail fake prize checks to winners and then ask the winners to wire back some of the money.

One way to know if you’ve actually won a Publishers Clearing House big cash prize is if the sweepstakes agents make a show of it. For prizes larger than $10,000, the PCH Prize Patrol arrives at your home with a giant check, roses, and — if you’re super lucky — celebrities like Steve Harvey and Terry Bradshaw. Winners do not receive a check in the mail.

Is Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes legitimate?

Yes, Publishers Clearing House does have legitimate sweepstakes that give winners substantial prizes, such as large sums of cash, luxurious trips, cars, and more. However, scammers take advantage of these big, lavish prizes to trick fake winners for their own financial gain. This is why it’s so important to fully investigate if you’ve won and to never send money to someone claiming to be from PCH.

Publishers Clearing House was founded in 1953 by Harold and LuEsther Mertz and their daughter, Joyce Mertz-Gilmore, as a way to sell discounted magazine subscriptions. In 1967, the company launched sweepstakes to draw attention to its magazine deals, and these sweepstakes have become what the company is known for today. PCH has since awarded over $591 million in prizes. Now, the company has broadened its offerings to home items, apparel, accessories, personal care items, outdoor and gardening items, and more.

The company’s revenue comes from digital advertising, search advertising, and the sale of merchandise and magazines, according to the PCH website. Over 40% of Publishers Clearing House’s profits go to charities that support the arts, environment, medical research and services, and others.[1]

How to avoid Publishers Clearing House scams

Before you start celebrating your big win, ensure you’re not falling victim to a Publishers Clearing House scam with these safety tips and recommendations for how to verify if you’ve actually won.

Confirm it’s Publishers Clearing House

If you get contacted by someone claiming to be from Publishers Clearing House, the first thing you should do before getting too excited about your prize is to confirm whether they’re legitimate or a scammer.

A good indicator is how they contact you. PCH SuperPrize is presented as a show: they surprise winners in person with balloons, roses, and a giant check. They do not notify winners in advance.

If you receive a check in the mail with a “partial” prize instructing you to cash the check and then wire some of it back, do not do it. Sometimes, banks are fooled and will cash the check, making the funds available to you. Then a few weeks later, the forgery is discovered, and the check will bounce. This can trick people because they see the money hit their account and wire money back as requested.

PCH does not call people either. If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from PCH, hang up. Likewise, real PCH reps do not reach out to you via Facebook or another social media platform to announce you’ve won.

Don’t pay to play

Real sweepstakes and lotteries don’t require you to pay to win. If someone contacts you and says they’re from PCH and asks you to wire them money for “fees” or “taxes” to get your prize, it’s 100% a scam.

It’s actually illegal for a company to tell someone to pay to enter a sweepstakes contest or that buying something increases their chances of winning. Always be on the lookout for these tactics from scammers. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it most likely isn’t real.

Know the official PCH rules

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which is the U.S. government’s agency that protects consumers, has rules around sweepstakes and contests. The organization running the sweepstakes must make clear that you can’t be required to pay to enter, eligibility requirements must be spelled out, odds of winning must be disclosed, the contest rules must specify the prizes awarded, and the sweepstakes’ start and end dates must be listed.

These are the official government rules for all sweepstakes, including Publishers Clearing House.[2][3]

Protect your personal information

Phishing scams aim to trick people into revealing personal details or sensitive financial information. Publishers Clearing House only asks for basic confirmation information if you’ve actually won a prize. This can include your full name, address, date of birth, and email address.

PCH doesn’t ask for a credit card number, bank account number, social security number, or other private information that can be used to steal your identity or your funds.

There are many ways to prevent identity theft, as well as services you can purchase to protect your information and keep it safe.

Be aware of fake fees

If you’ve actually won a prize from PCH, you are not required to pay fees or taxes when you receive your prize money. No taxes are owed before income or prizes are received. You pay this when idling your taxes for the year or via estimated payments. If someone sends you part of the money and asks you to wire some back or claims you’ve won millions but just need to pay for some fees upfront, never ever send them money. They’re trying to scam you.

Real checks don’t require your PII

A legitimate check does not require personally identifiable information (PII) to cash it. If someone requests this information from you, do not give it to them. If you’ve already cashed a fake check, contact your bank directly for help.

What to do if you suspect a Publishers Clearing House scam

If you suspect you’re the target of a Publishers Clearing House scam or you have already been scammed, there are steps you can take to report it to the right people and lessen the damage.

  • Do NOT send any information or money (including a cashier’s check or gift card) to PCH, cash any checks, or respond in any way.
  • Call Publishers Clearing House at 1-800-566-4724 to confirm if what you’re being told is legitimate. Other ways to contact PCH include online chat or email.
  • Report the scam to PCH. PCH shares this report with the Federal Trade Commission. You can also report the scam to the National Fraud Center as well as file a report with local law enforcement.
  • If you receive a fake check in the mail, you can report it to the United States Postal Inspection Service.
  • If you’ve already sent the scammers personal or financial information, go to the Federal Trade Commission’s website to report it. The FTC creates a personal recovery plan for you and helps you repair your credit and dispute fraudulent transactions.
  • If you cashed a fake check, contact your bank and explain that you’ve been scammed.
  • Consider investing in identity theft protection to recoup your losses and protect yourself from further damages.

Publishers Clearing House scams FAQs


+

How does Publishers Clearing House notify winners?

Publishers Clearing House notifies winners in person if the prize is over $10,000, exactly how you see on TV. The prize posse surprises winners in real life with a giant check, balloons, roses, and sometimes a celebrity. PCH reps may send something in the mail beforehand, but they do not call you. If someone reaches out claiming to be from Publishers Clearing House in a different way, this is a sure way to tell that they’re a scammer.


+

How do you know if a sweepstakes is legitimate?

You can tell that a sweepstakes is legitimate if:

  • You are not asked to pay upfront
  • The company follows the U.S. government’s laws on sweepstakes, such as spelling out what the prize is
  • The sweepstakes have exact dates when the contest is running
  • You are not required to pay to enter the sweepstakes
  • You can verify the legitimacy of the company via background research

If anyone asks you for money to enter or to claim your prize, that’s an automatic tell that it’s a scam.


+

How does PCH pick a winner?

The PCH winners are selected randomly. PCH Giveaways are conducted under the supervision of a board of judges, independent auditors, and outside counsel.

Depending on how the sweepstakes is implemented, there are a few different methodologies used.

  • Matching winning number: Each entry is assigned a number. Then, a winning number is randomly selected, and PCH checks to see who has the winning number.
  • Random drawing: A winner is selected randomly from all eligible entries. This method is typically conducted at PCH using a computer when a matching winning number is not returned or to award small prizes.
  • Promptness: Entries received in a certain period are eligible for random winner selection.
  • Geographical: Entries are divided by region or location, and a winner is selected in each one.
  • Instant win: Entries are selected at random through a game, and prizes are awarded instantly.

+

Who won the Publishers Clearing House 2023?

There are several winners every year with various prize amounts. The $5 million prize went to Sonya Thurman from Vanceburg, Kentucky, in December 2023. Cecilia Fuller of Syracuse, New York, Edwin Walker of Albertville, Alabama, and Thomas Moore of Melbourne, Florida, each won $1 million each as well.


+

What happens if you win Publishers Clearing House and you're not home?

Not to worry — if the PCH Prize Patrol knocks and you’re not home to answer, they work to find you! They ask neighbors, go to your work, go to your friend’s house, or they’ll wait for you to come home. They’ve never failed to find one of their winners.


+

How do I check if my name is on the PCH list of winners?

You can go to PCH’s official winners page and scroll through it. You should also know that PCH will contact you through the company’s official methods. If you do get contacted by someone claiming to be from Publishers Clearing House and want to verify their legitimacy, you should reach out to PCH directly. You can call 1-800-566-4724 as well as contact PCH via online chat or email.

Bottom line: Don’t get swept away by sweepstakes scams

Winning a Publishers Clearing House prize is exciting, so it’s easy to get caught up in the possibility of receiving a boatload of cash. As an unfortunate result, sweepstakes also attract a lot of bad actors trying to steal your money. To ensure that you’re not falling victim to a PCH scam, be sure to do your research, analyze how you got contacted by PCH, and never send anyone money. To cover your bases, consider investing in services to protect your identity from all types of scammers.

4.9
Editorial Rating
Learn More
On Aura Identity Theft's website
Aura Identity Theft
  • Excellent identity theft protection service
  • Includes a password manager and VPN
  • Robust tools for children’s security
  • Provides VantageScore and not FICO score updates

Author Details
Waverly Colville is a Brooklyn-based journalist and producer. She holds a B.J. in Investigative Journalism and a B.A. in International Peace Studies from the University of Missouri.

Citations

[1] Publishers Clearing House Information Center – PCH Overview

[2] FTC: Fake Prize, Sweepstakes, and Lottery Scams

[3] Publishers Clearing House Information Center – Fraud Protection