Fraud

Share Article
01 February, 2024
|
10 min

Publishers Clearing House scams: Signs and tips to avoid them

Oliver Buxton

Staff writer

+ More
A woman analyzes a message that appears to be from Publishers Clearing House.

Publishers Clearing House scammers use cunning tactics to trick people out of their hard-earned savings, leaving devastation in their wake. To avoid deception and financial loss, learn how to identify PCH scams and how identity theft protection tools like LifeLock Standard can help reduce your risk of getting scammed.

Imagine you pick up the phone and hear an upbeat voice exclaiming, “Congratulations, you are the lucky winner of the $5 million Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes! All you need to do to claim your winnings is wire us $2,500 to cover taxes and processing fees. Then, we’ll send a check for the full amount within five business days. Are you ready to take down the transfer details, or do you need 24 hours to free up some funds?”

For those more familiar with scams, this unrealistic and urgent message will likely set off alarm bells. However, scammers use Publishers Clearing House (PCH) scams to target and trick senior citizens and others who are less familiar with the latest cybercrime tactics.

If you think someone might be targeting you in a scam or want to know what to look for, you’ve come to the right place. In this guide, we’ll tell you about the different types of Publishers Clearing House scams, what they look like, and tips for recovering from them.

Is Publishers Clearing House a scam?

No, Publishers Clearing House itself isn’t a scam. PCH is a legitimate company that sells magazines and merchandise. Founded in 1953, the company gained popularity by organizing high-value contests, games, and sweepstakes to promote their subscriptions. Since then, the company has given away more than half a billion dollars in prize money.

However, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sued PCH in 2023 over misleading wording on their website that led contestants to believe they had to buy something to enter the sweepstakes. As a result, the company was ordered to pay $18.5 million to customers and is overhauling its business practices.

What does winning a legitimate PCH sweepstakes look like?

If you win big ($600 and up), the PCH prize patrol may show up at your door unannounced, carrying a jumbo check with your name on it, a cluster of colorful balloons, and a bouquet of red roses. However, if you win less than $600, your award may appear via U.S. First Class Mail instead.

Regardless of the award amount, the Publishers Clearing House will NEVER email, text, call, or direct message you.

A list of tricks to help you identify if a PCH awards notification is real or fake.

3 signs to help identify a Publishers Clearing House scam

It can be tricky to tell PCH sweepstakes scams from the real thing. However, you can usually catch a few telltale signs by paying close attention. Here are red flags to look for if someone says you won a Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes.

  • You’re told you won a giveaway you didn’t enter. You’ll never win a competition that you didn’t enter unless you’re accepting the winnings on someone else’s behalf.
  • Someone calls you to announce that you won. PCH never calls ahead to let you know you won. Phone call award notifications are always a Publishers Clearing House phone scam, and you should hang up immediately.
  • Someone claims you have to pay to receive your winnings. PCH will never ask you to pay a fee to get your money because that’s illegal. So, if someone asks you to wire money or purchase gift cards for them, they’re almost certainly trying to scam you.

If you’re still unsure whether you’re dealing with a scam, call the Publishers Clearing House customer service team at 1-800-566-4724. A PCH agent can confirm if you actually won money and can help get it to you.

How do Publishers Clearing House Scams work?

In most cases, identity theft or financial fraud is a PCH scammer’s end goal. To accomplish what they set out to do, scammers usually:

  • Get your contact information through data breaches or social engineering.
  • Confirm the identity of a PCH representative and contact you with a phone call, snail mail, email, or over social media.
  • Request personal information about you to “verify your identity” or ask you to pay a fee to receive your money.
  • Disappear without a trace once they get what they want.
A sample Publishers Clearing House scam letter and an overview of what’s wrong with it.

Types of Publishers Clearing House scams

Most PCH scams are similar, although wording may vary depending on the scammer and their intentions. The main difference is the channel the scammer uses to deceive their targets.

Here are some common types of PCH scams:

Fake checks in the mail

Sometimes, scammers will mail you a phony award notification with a check attached. In these cases, the scammer typically tells you to send them money to pay for taxes, insurance, or legal fees.

Other scammers might send paperwork without the check and ask you to call the listed number to speak with a claims agent. When you call, this person tries to convince you to send the money quickly.

Good to know: If you receive a check in the mail, scan the document for mistakes like misspellings or incorrect security features. Also, remember that you don’t need to talk to anyone to deposit a legitimate check from PCH.

Award notifications via social media

Facebook is a popular tool among Publishers Clearing House scammers since their target demographic uses it frequently (although no social media platform is entirely free of scammers). Cybercriminals often message users, convincing them that they won and need to send money to collect their prize.

Good to know: PCH may post footage of the Prize Patrol on their social media accounts, but they never use them to contact winners. If you receive a direct message or a friend request from someone claiming to be with the Publishers Clearing House, you should immediately report the message and block the person’s account.

Fake sweepstakes application websites

Some scammers recreate PCH’s website by mimicking their logo, competitions, and more to trick visitors into entering their personal information. Using this information, they can complete their con and convince would-be contestants that they won a prize. During this process, they try to get the target to send bank account details, gift cards, or pre-loaded credit cards.

Good to know: You can verify if the website you’re on is legitimate by reviewing the URL. It should say “pch.com”—if you see any other iteration, chances are it’s a spoofed website and a scam.

Scammers pose as PCH representatives on the phone

In some cases, scammers might also try to pass themselves off as one of the members of the Prize Patrol. You can sometimes see this tactic on social media, but it’s used more often on the phone, where it’s harder to verify the identity of the person you’re talking to. Over the phone, they might tell you that you won cash or a valuable prize and request credit card details so they can send your money or pay the taxes on your winnings.

Good to know: Advanced scammers may spoof the caller ID so the display shows that the call is coming from the Publishers Clearing House even though it’s not. That’s why it’s important to remember that PCH doesn’t call people to let them know when they’ve won money—this is always a Publishers Clearing House scam call.

What can I do if I’m tricked by a PCH scam?

Contact PCH customer service to confirm your winnings, especially if you suspect someone is trying to scam you. If you find that someone was trying to (or did) steal from you, here’s what you need to do:

  • Report the scam to the FTC: The Federal Trade Commission exists to protect consumers. So, if someone tries to deceive you with a Publishers Clearing House scam, report them at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
  • Notify Publishers Clearing House: PCH uses a “Scam Database” to identify trends. They share this database with law enforcement to help stop future occurrences.
  • Let the authorities know: If you lost money in a PCH scam, file a report with the local authorities. It can be hard to recover money lost in online scams, but your local law enforcement may have the knowledge and resources to help you anyway.
  • Alert your bank to possible unauthorized activity: If you notify your bank quickly, they might be able to stop the charge and reimburse you. Even if they can’t, they can help you set up fraud alerts if the scammers have your banking information.
  • Monitor your credit: If you entered sensitive information into a bogus sweepstakes entry form or submitted payment information, you should also invest in software like LifeLock Standard that monitors your credit score. This is a useful defense that can help you discover accounts that scammers open in your name.
  • Notify friends and family about the attack: You should let your community know about your experience. Scammers will go after anyone they can—warning others is a great way to help keep them safe.
A list of six things you should do to recover from a PCH scam.

Protection against identity theft

Hackers can steal personal information with malware, social engineering schemes, and sweepstakes scams. Once they do, nothing is stopping them from selling that information or publishing it on the dark web. Use LifeLock Standard to help monitor the dark web for personal data, notify you of potential identity theft, and start the restoration process should the worst happen.

FAQs about Publishers Clearing House scams

Still have questions about Publishers Clearing House scams? Here’s what you need to know.

What can I do if I’m unsure that a PCH award notification is legitimate?

Contact PCH’s customer service team via chat or call their support line at  1-800-566-4724 during business hours. An agent can verify your winnings with your name, email address, or customer ID number.

Can antivirus protect against Publishers Clearing House scams?

Antivirus software is not specifically designed to protect against Publishers Clearing House scams, as these scams often involve social engineering and manipulation rather than traditional malware. However, antivirus software can help you identify and avoid malicious websites or dangerous links that would expose you to data breaches.

Can I win a PCH prize without entering the sweepstakes?

No, you can’t win money from Publishers Clearing House unless you enter your name into the contest. However, you might receive an award notification if the winner can’t claim their prize and you’re their next of kin.

Can someone else enter me in the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes?

Yes, someone else can enter you in the sweepstakes if they follow the Publishers Clearing House’s rules. However, you should ask questions if someone enters your name to be sure they did so for the right reasons and aren’t opening you up to legal problems.

Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. NortonLifeLock offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about cyber safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses.

Elderly scams: Scammers target seniors, and tech makes it easier
Elderly scams target senior citizens, with the goal of scamming the elderly out of the money they’ve saved. The internet, online banking, and social media can fuel such scams. Here’s help.
Read More
Wire transfer scams: How to spot this age-old scam
Wire transfer scams coax unsuspecting people into sending money to criminals. Learn how to protect yourself from several common types of wire transfer scams.
Read More
5 IRS scams to watch out for in tax season
Tax season brings out scammers. Here’s what you can do to help protect against tax-related scams.
Read More
5 Ways to Help Protect Your Personal Information Online
Learn more about how to help protect your personal information online with these 5 simple tips from LifeLock.
Read More

Start your protection,
enroll in minutes.

Get discounts, info, protection tips, and more

Sign up for promotional emails