Alert
Close

Top the Treasure Hunt leaderboard by 5 p.m. Friday to win a $100 gift card! Learn more

Highlights

Open

Contests and
Sweeps

Safe Driving in 2014 Sweepstakes

Learn how AARP Driver Safety can help you stay safe—and enter for a chance to win $1,000. See official rules. 

Driver Safety

Piggy bank on the road - AARP Driver Safety

Take the new AARP Smart Driver Course!

AARP Books

Visit the Money Section

Enjoy titles on retirement, Social Security, and becoming debt-free.

webinars

Learn From the Experts

Sign up now for an upcoming Money webinar or find materials from a past session. 

Jobs You Might Like

most popular
articles

Viewed

Scam Alert

You’ve Won a Million Bucks!

You can't win a sweepstakes you haven't entered — and 2 other clever lies that could fool you

As millions of Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes envelopes begin to arrive in mailboxes across the country, you should know that your odds of winning big are pretty small: Only a 1 in 1.2 billion chance of snagging the top prize of $1 million a year for life, according to the company. Even getting a one-time prize of $2,500 has odds of 1 in 130 million.

See also: AARP Sweepstakes you can trust.
 
But the odds of getting scammed are 100 percent if you believe those phony congratulation letters, phone calls and emails that claim you need to pay money in order to get your winnings.

Briefcase with money and dynamite - Beware of prizes that require fees.

Watch out for any prize notification that says you have to pay fees up front to get your prize. — Masterfile

PCH’s genuine mailings began in mid-January and will continue for months. Unfortunately, they mark the kickoff of sweepstakes scam season. Already, scammers have wasted no time getting busy.

In Mississippi, “winners” of the contest are being notified with phone calls from Jamaica or Nigeria, asking that $200 in taxes be paid before their $155,000 and new car can be delivered.

In Minnesota, police says scammers are mailing letters requesting payment of $15,000 in taxes to claim millions from the national contest.

In reality, the $1 million a year for life prize will be announced Feb. 29. Only sweepstakes entry forms — not notifications of winners — are being delivered for now.

“I could cite 20 different ways scammers use to capitalize on our company name and sweepstakes,” PCH official Christopher Irving tells Scam Alert, “but it all comes down to this: At some point, a scam artist will ask you to send money, to pay some type of fees in order to get your prize. We do not make such requests.” No legitimate contest, sweepstakes or lottery, in fact, ever asks for an advance fee to claim winnings.

If you really win a PCH prize — hundreds are awarded each year, ranging from $10 to that 1-in-1.2 billion shot at $1 million per year — expect this:

  • For any prize of $10,000 or more, a Prize Patrol van (complete with oversized check and camera crew) will arrive at your door — unannounced, says Irving. You will not be notified by phone call, letter or email. Any notifications delivered those ways are scams.
  • For winnings of less than $10,000, the Prize Patrol may or may not show up, adds Irving. If not, expect a certified letter delivered by U.S. mail that asks you to contact PCH at 1-800-645-9242.

Here’s what you need to know about other prize lies:

  • The “partial” payment check.  You get a check with congratulations and instructions to deposit that “partial payment” of supposed winnings into your bank account. You’re told to use that money to make a quick wire-transfer of a required advance payment of taxes or fees or whatever. What happens: The deposited check proves to be counterfeit — this could take weeks to discover — and you’re liable for all money drawn from that deposit in the meantime.
  • The bogus claims agent. Congratulatory letters often ask you to contact a designated “claims agent.” Don’t. These smooth talkers claim to be third-party middlemen “managing” your prize award, but are actually professional con men. Once you pay the requested advance amount, they bombard you with other phone calls and letters claiming new, “unexpected” fees have arisen, until you get wise.
  • Did you even enter? If you didn’t and are told you won, it’s a scam. There is no way you can win a legitimate sweepstakes, lottery or contest that you don’t enter.

You may also like: Are gambling winnings taxable?

Related Video

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts

Processing

Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.

The Cheap Life

Jeff Yeager Cheap Life Ultimate Cheapskate AARP YouTube web series save money

Catch the latest episode of The Cheap Life starring Jeff Yeager, AARP's Ultimate Cheapskate. Watch

Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

AARP Credit card from Chase

Members can get cash back rewards on purchases with the AARP® Credit Card from Chase.

AARP Financial Services

Info on saving for education from AARP® College Savings Solutions from TIAA-CREF.

Member Benefits

Join or renew today! AARP members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.