How To Identify (and Avoid) Publishers Clearing House Scams

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Sofia Kaufman

Chief People Officer at Aura

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    Did You Really Win Millions From Publishers Clearing House?

    When a Pennsylvania man opened his mail, the last thing he expected to find was a check for $12.5 million from Publishers Clearing House [*]. But the letter and check looked legitimate. 

    There was just one catch: Before the Publishers Clearing House Prize Patrol would show up with an oversized check and a bottle of champagne, he needed to send $31,000 in prepaid gift cards to cover “fees” and taxes.

    The good news is that the man realized he was being targeted by a scam — but not until he’d already sent off $500 worth of gift cards. 

    Publishers Clearing House scams may seem like an outdated scheme, but cases have increased 240% in 2022 alone [*]. Fraudsters use the promise of life-changing winnings to persuade you to send them money or provide sensitive information that they can use for identity theft and fraud.  

    If you think you’ve won a prize from Publishers Clearing House (PCH), you need to be especially careful with how you proceed. In this guide, we’ll explain how PCH scams work, the red flags to look out for, and what to do if you’ve sent money or information to scammers.

    Is Publishers Clearing House a Scam?

    No, Publishers Clearing House is not a scam.

    PCH has marketed merchandise and magazine subscriptions to American households since 1967 and has given away more than half a billion dollars since it was founded. 

    The company awards between $3 million and $13 million to Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes participants every year [*]. However, while the company itself is legitimate, scam artists are using its name and brand recognition to trick people into giving up money and personal data. 

    How Do Publishers Clearing House Scams Work? 

    The Publishers Clearing House scam  is a type of sweepstakes scam in which fraudsters impersonate company representatives and claim you’ve won a prize. 

    But the whole thing is a setup to get you to either send them money (or gift cards) or disclose enough sensitive information to enable them to steal your identity and empty your bank account.

    Here’s an example of how a typical PCH scam plays out:

    • Scammers target victims with phone calls, emails, or text messages. You receive a message or letter claiming that you’ve won a valuable prize. In most cases, the prize is a large cash payment along with a new car, vacation, or other valuable high-ticket item.
    • You’re then told that to claim the prize, you must first pay taxes, fees, or shipping costs. Scammers often demand payment in gift cards from popular stores (such as Amazon or eBay). This allows them to disappear with victims’ money without leaving a paper trail.
    • They’ll ask you to provide the PIN (found on the back of the gift card) over the phone or via email. This gives fraudsters instant access to the funds on the cards. 
    • After you pay, the scammer disappears. After you’ve given the scammers what they want, they hang up. You lose the money you sent to them and never receive your prize.

    In some versions of this increasingly popular scam, victims are asked to send their Social Security number (SSN), bank account details, or other personal data — giving scammers everything needed to steal their victims’ identities. 

    Take action: If you accidentally give scammers your personal information, your bank and credit card accounts could be at risk. Try Aura’s top-rated identity theft protection with credit monitoring free for 14 days to protect your accounts and sensitive information from scammers. 

    How To Quickly Spot a PCH Scam

    The bottom line is that Publishers Clearing House never requires winners to pay [*]

    If you’re a legitimate winner, you won’t be subject to fees or charges before you can claim your prize. If you’re asked to pay anything to claim your winnings, you’re dealing with a PCH scam.

    Even if you’re not asked to pay upfront, there are other red flags to look out for when dealing with a fake PCH award. 

    Here’s how you can tell if you’re being targeted by a sweepstakes scam:

    • You receive a notice about a prize that is over $10,000 in value. Publishers Clearing House always awards large cash prizes in person with their famous Prize Patrol. They do not give winners any advance warning before the Prize Patrol shows up. Smaller prizes are sent by certified mail.
    Example of a fake PCH sweepstakes letter. Source: KX News
    • There are “processing fees” or other charges. Sweepstakes winners should not have to pay anything to claim prizes. If you’re asked to pay or send gift cards, it’s a scam.
    • You’re asked to wire back some of the money. Some scammers send fake checks in the mail and ask victims to wire back a portion of the money. When the check bounces, you have to pay the difference.
    • You’re asked to provide personal or financial data to claim your prize. Publishers Clearing House will never ask for bank account information, handling fees, or gift card payments in order for you to receive a prize. 
    • You have to contact someone before cashing the check. If a check is real, there is no need to talk to anyone before cashing it. Scammers use this tactic to get you on the phone and demand payment or sensitive data from you.
    • The contact information is wrong. Verify that the phone number provided is the same as the one listed on PCH.com. If you’re unsure, you can always call PCH customer service directly at 1-800-459-4724 (or use other contact information found on the PCH website) and ask if you’ve really won.

    💡 Related: What Happens If You Unknowingly Deposit a Fake Check?

    Beware of These 5 Publishers Clearing House Scams

    1. Fake checks for sweepstakes winnings sent to you in the mail
    2. Scam calls asking you to pay fees to claim your prize
    3. Requests to send financial information to a “claims agent”
    4. Scammers asking you to open new accounts to collect prize money
    5. Facebook messages from PCH employee imposters

    Fraudsters continue targeting Americans with new versions of PCH scams because they work. Here are descriptions of the latest Publishers Clearing House scams — and what you can do to avoid them:

    1. Fake checks for sweepstakes winnings sent to you in the mail

    The PCH check scam works by convincing victims to cash a fake check and transfer a portion of the proceeds back to the scammers. 

    After sending you a fake check in the mail, scammers then ask you to pay for “lawyer’s fees” or “insurance.” When the bank discovers that the check is fake, it will withdraw the amount from your account.

    Don’t get scammed! Do this instead:

    • Never pay for PCH giveaway prizes. If PCH really did send you a check, the company won’t ask for any money back. There will be no mention of “lawyer’s fees” or processing charges.
    • Verify winnings with PCH customer service. If someone says you’ve won a prize from Publishers Clearing House, verify it with the company by calling 1-800-459-4724.
    • Check with your bank before cashing checks. Scammers often tell victims to cash fake checks and not tell anyone. This is because they know bank personnel will see the scam for what it is. 

    💡 Related: How To Protect Your Bank Account From Identity Theft

    2. Scam calls asking you to pay fees to claim your prize

    This scam starts with a phone call informing you that you’ve won a cash prize, a new car, or a vacation. In order to claim the prize, you need to send money to the organization to pay for processing fees or other charges.

    Scammers can spoof the caller ID so that it appears as if you’re receiving a genuine call from Publishers Clearing House. They may also time their calls to coincide with the Publishing Clearing House’s official prize calendar to make the scam seem more legitimate [*].

    In one case, 63-year-old Kenneth Jordan received a phone call claiming to be from PCH telling him he’d won $3.5 million [*]. The caller convinced Kenneth to wire nearly $4,000 before he caught on to the scam.

    Here’s what to do:

    • Hang up the moment scammers mention a fee. Be aware that they may tell you they’re sending you money to pay for these fees. But this is just part of the scam. They will send a fake check and leave you to face the consequences.
    • Don’t trust your caller ID. Scammers can manipulate phones into displaying any name and number that they want when calling. They can even make their call appear to be local when it isn’t.
    • Never give out any personal data over the phone. Scammers may initially ask for harmless information before moving on to sensitive financial data. They use this tactic to build trust with victims.

    💡 Related: How To Identify a Fake Check (and What To Do)

    3. Requests to send financial information to a “claims agent”

    One common version of the PCH scam involves fraudsters asking victims to contact a designated “claims agent.” This trick is designed to give you the impression that you’re dealing with a third-party professional who is managing your prize award. 

    In reality, the “agent” is a scam artist who will try to convince you to give up personal data in exchange for your winnings. If you comply, the scammer will invent more obstacles that you need to clear before you can claim your prize  — such as sending money, information, or both.

    Here’s what to do:

    • Refuse to speak to third parties. Publishers Clearing House does not rely on third-party claims agents; it manages and distributes prizes directly.
    • Don’t share sensitive data. Both your bank account number and Social Security number (SSN) should remain confidential. There is no legitimate reason to share this data with anyone.
    • Consider signing up for identity theft protection with credit monitoring. Aura monitors your bank, investment, and credit card accounts for signs of fraud, and alerts you up to 4x faster than other services. You can try Aura free for 14 days to see if it’s right for you.
    Aura identity theft protection

    4. Scammers asking you to open new accounts to collect prize money

    Fraudsters will sometimes ask victims to open new accounts in order to claim prizes. But in order to do so, you’ll need to “verify” your identity by sharing a bank account number or other sensitive personal information. This allows scammers to take control of the account and steal your identity.

    These scams often tempt victims with valuable prize winnings. In one case, a couple in Tennessee reported being offered $1.5 million and a brand-new Mercedes convertible [*]. All they had to do was open a new bank account and send a photocopy of the account holder’s ID.

    Here’s what to do: 

    • Never open an account to collect your sweepstakes prize. Legitimate sweepstakes companies can send money directly to your existing bank account. There is never any reason to open a new account.
    • Never send identification via phone or email. Your ID is a sensitive document. If a legitimate company needs to see it, they will provide you with a secure way to send it to them. 

    💡Related: Did You Give Your SSN To a Scammer? Do This ASAP

    5. Facebook messages from PCH employee imposters

    Scammers can easily exploit social media platforms like Facebook to run PCH scams. 

    First they copy images and content from the PCH Prize Patrol official Facebook account. Then they use this content to target people who follow the PCH page — and inform targets that they’ve won. Eventually, the scammers ask for up-front payments, a portion of the winnings, or financial data.

    Sometimes scammers impersonate real PCH employees. They create fake accounts for recognizable Prize Patrol members like Dave Sayer, Danielle Lam, or Todd Sloane. They may even impersonate PCH executives like Deborah Holland. 

    Examples of fake PCH employee accounts. Source: PCH Facebook account

    Here’s what to do:

    • Don’t respond to friend requests from PCH employees. PCH employees do not reach out to winners on Facebook. These are not real accounts.
    • Report fake accounts whenever you see them. If enough people report an account, Facebook will require the user to validate their identity. If the user can’t comply, Facebook will shut down the account.

    💡 Related: The Worst Social Media Scams of 2023 (and How To Avoid Them)

    Were You the Victim of a PCH Sweepstakes Scam? Do This!

    • Call Publishers Clearing House at 1-800-392-4190. A PCH employee will confirm whether you are receiving real Publishers Clearing House communications or fraudulent ones.
    • Report the scam to PCH. Use this form to report the scam. Publishers Clearing House will share this report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
    • If you received a fake check in the mail, report the scam to the U.S. Postal Service Inspection Service (USPIS) either online or by calling 1-877-876-2455. For more information, check out the USPIS’ latest Publishers Clearing House scam alert.
    • If you sent money, go to ReportFraud.ftc.gov and report the details of the scam. Then, try to recover your money by following the steps in this guide.
    • If you shared sensitive data, go to IdentityTheft.gov and fill out an official FTC Identity Theft report. This is an essential step, as an FTC report will help you dispute fraudulent transactions and repair your credit after identity theft has occurred. 
    • You may also want to freeze your credit and monitor your accounts for suspicious activity.
    • If you cashed a fake check, contact your bank and explain that you’ve been scammed. You may need to file a police report with local law enforcement.
    • Consider signing up for fraud protection and credit monitoring services. Scam artists may target you again in the future. Protect yourself against scams with Aura’s top-rated identity theft and credit monitoring service. Aura constantly monitors your sensitive information and accounts for signs of fraud. If anything suspicious is found, you’ll receive an alert in near real-time so that you can shut down scammers before they do too much damage. 
    Protect yourself from the worst consequences of identity theft. Aura combines comprehensive identity theft protection with powerful digital security tools. Plus, every Aura member is covered for up to $1,000,000 in insurance for eligible losses due to identity theft. Try Aura free for 14 days

    The Bottom Line: If You Have To Pay To Win, It’s a Scam

    Everyone would love to pick up the phone and hear that they’ve won millions of dollars. But don’t let your desire for a life of luxury and riches make you a vulnerable target for scammers. 

    If you receive any communication claiming to be from Publishers Clearing House, do your due diligence. Contact the company directly and make sure you’re not getting scammed. 

    For added security, consider signing up for Aura’s all-in-one digital security solution to keep your identity and money safe from fraudsters. 

    Let Aura protect your finances and identity. Start your free 14-day trial today

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    1. Financial identity theft and fraud
    2. Medical identity theft
    3. Child identity theft
    4. Elder fraud and estate identity theft
    5. “Friendly” or familial identity theft
    6. Employment identity theft
    7. Criminal identity theft
    8. Tax identity theft
    9. Unemployment and government benefits identity theft
    10. Synthetic identity theft
    11. Identity cloning
    12. Account takeovers (social media, email, etc.)
    13. Social Security number identity theft
    14. Biometric ID theft
    15. Crypto account takeovers