Monday, March 8, 2010

I'm still waiting for the "Prize Patrol"

By Alan Caruba

If anyone bothered to read the “Sweepstakes Facts” that Publishers Clearing House provides with its endless mailings, they would discover that the odds of winning “up to $10,000,000" in any of their constantly on-going “giveaway” programs is “1 in 1,750,000,000.” I am not making this up, nor the other prize odds that range from 1 in 170,000,000 down to a mere 1 in 92,000. You probably have better odds of being hit by lightning.

A year ago I was watching one of their television commercials where their prize patrol arrives with a huge check, flowers, and balloons and the lucky winners gasp in delight. A journalist by training and hoping to pick up a few million, I decided to participate. That was a big mistake.

PCH may be the most devilishly clever way to sell stuff most people would only buy if they thought it would help win—-they tell you it will not—-but what followed over the past year was a deluge of emails and letters stuffed with fliers for stuff with stickers on the envelopes saying things like “Attention: Instant Cash prize Will Definitely Be Awarded from This Bulletin Only.”

The following month I received an envelope with a sticker that said, “48-Hour Alert: You are hereby notified that you are the owner of a valid SuperPrize Number making you fully eligible to win $1,000,000.00 INSTANT WIN SuperPrize as soon as you respond to this Note”, adding, “Be advised that failure to respond by the deadline is cause for immediate forfeiture of your number and may result in serious loss of money.”

The key to the PCH pitch is the urgency with which one must respond to either the emails or the envelopes. Each individual giveaway has a time limit so one is compelled to respond to each one.

Let it be said that PCH is a totally legitimate enterprise. They provide their rules and, as noted, the odds against winning anything. They even include “Notice of Unclaimed Cash Prizes” from $500 to $75.00 telling the recipient “Hurry! These cash prizes must be awarded!”

Somebody does win a PCH payout or prize. Mostly, however, not you.

You don’t even have to purchase a “Pouring Funnel Pitcher”, “Double-Sided Metallic Cleaning Pads”, the “Perfect Brownie Baking Pan”, “Mighty Putty”, “Reusable Shopping Bags”, or any of the other items that run the gamut from useful to self-indulgent. The prices are low until you read that they involve multiple payments, usually about four. I bought a knife and scissor sharpener.

Having satisfied my curiosity about Publishers Clearing House—-it began as a scheme to sell magazine subscriptions and it still does—-and the way it must surely get hundreds of thousands of gullible and needy people to keep buying and buying and buying items that, as often as not, appear to be overpriced or easily available for less at your local supermarket or Wal-Mart, I am now going to extricate myself from their clutches.

This is the kind of suffering that a journalist will go through to “get the story” and the story is that PCH is malevolently brilliant in the way it unceasingly bombards those hoping that they will beat the 1 in 1,750,000,000 odds.

The reasoning is the same as buying a lottery ticket, hoping you will have the winning numbers for the Powerball or Mega-millions drawing. Yes, I buy one every week as part of retirement plan.

We live in hope.

We don’t have to live with constant hectoring to buy over-priced stuff we don’t want.

© Alan Caruba, 2010


TexasFred said...

I'd rather take my chances with the Texas Lottery, at least I'm helping MY home state..

Christopher - Conservative Perspective said...

This has been going on for years and you just caught wind of it?

Alan Caruba said...

Christopher: I am fully aware that PCH has been in business for years, but that does not rule out commenting on it. Indeed, it almost cries out for comment...because there are lots of people who are unaware of the odds involved.

jae said...


Ron H. said...

You are right that many people don't read the fine print.

Some years ago when my wife and I were on vacation, our 18 year old daughter, who had stayed at home because of her job, called to breathlessly inform us that my wife had probably won $10million. Shortly after returning home, she and I sat down for a little chat, and we read the entire package including all the fine print with the odds listed.

It was an important lesson learned for my daughter, and I'm grateful to PCH ,for providing the course material. :-)

Ol James said...

Mr Alan, this reads like one of Aesop's Fables. Remember the cartoons ??
The Tale of the PCH....hmm
...oh well.
morale of the story:
You're never to old to learn.

..did the same thing myself in the 80's...

Unknown said...

Hello. This is Chris Irving from the Consumer Affairs group of Publishers Clearing House. Your post was directed to my attention and I wanted to respond at once. I believe that you and your readers may find some additional information to be of interest.

Regarding our odds, PCH and our varied online sites award prizes that range from our famous million dollar SuperPrize giveaways all the way down to smaller cash prizes and even gift cards for online retailers such as Amazon. The odds for many of these giveaways are some of the lowest offered by any major sweepstakes promoter.

Unlike state lotteries, a purchase is never necessary to enter and buying will not help you win. And speaking of winning, real people really do win at PCH - everyday through the mail or at our online sites featured at

One thing is for sure. Without an entry consumers have no chance to win. The faces of our winners from coast to coast when our famous Prize Patrol shows up with balloons, flowers and that big check demonstrates what a single entry and a little luck can accomplish!

Chris Irving
Assistant Vice President, Consumer Affairs
Publishers Clearing House

Alan Caruba said...

Thanks, Chris.

If you can help me out by getting me off your mail list, I'd appreciate it.

Unknown said...


While we never like to lose a friend from our mailing list, the process for removal is simple and fast. You can contact us by phone at (800) 645 - 9242, online at or write to us care of 101 Winners Circle, Port Washington, NY 11050. Simply provide us the name and address under which the mailings are received and we process the removal at once. As promotional mail is often pre-printed it usually takes about 4-6 weeks before all mailings cease. That's all there is to it! All prior entries will remain valid until contest end. We wish you all the best!

Chris Irving
Assistant Vice President, Consumer Affairs
Publishers Clearing House

Rich Kozlovich said...

Wow! Chris you have a gift. Just like the One.

Carolyn said...

LOL Mr Caruba! I could have saved you the trouble!! Sorry I'm kind of late to this one- have been out of computer service all week! Anyway. I tried that years ago and it is just like you said! Put this sticker here, this one here etc. and on and on and mail immediately! No purchase necessary.
Needless to say, I never had the van come to my house.
I haven't done any sweepstakes or lotteries or any other racket for years. Didn't know the exact odds, but I told my son (who at 9 and sees the lottery commercials on TV, and asked why me and daddy don't do it) imagine I am on one side of I-75, and the whole population is on the other side. Now, imagine me waving a ticket and yelling, "IM gonna win!!!) thing is- they all are waving their tickets too.
What a racket.

Carolyn said...

Sorry- Mr. Caruba, forgot to ask the Lord's Blessings on you! God Bless! :-)

Alan Caruba said...

Carolyn: No problem. I ask Him for His blessing all the time.

MrsDavegen said...

I have been responding to PCH for the past 3 years. I have recieved "Golden Ticket" along with many emails that I respond to on a daily basis. Four to Six entries daily, unless they offer multiple entries. If I ever win, I will repost on here to tell you all that you can win if you try. If I do not win in the next month or so, I will also post on here that too. Non stop for the past 3 years and never have I won a single Amazon card. I am aiming for the million to ten million dollar one so if I do win the next couple months, be looking for my repost. If I do not win with that many entries, than I do not think anyone has a chance. Thank you!

Clay said...

I've been doing this for 3 years, my mother has been doing this for over 20 years both by mail and email and hasn't won a single dime. Is it worth it? I don't think so but seems how I've nothing much to do somedays, I do it anyway hopeing against hope I guess. But I'm not going to keep doing it for over 20 years thats for sure.

Anonymous said...

I really liked the comment from the pch guy. What a crock! I've been doing this for years and so has my parents. My mother buys stupid stuff from them and gets to make the monthly payments. I tried to buy something and was told I had to pay for all of it up front. I live in Utah. We don't have a state powerball or anything here. The prize patrol has never even set foot inside the state. So the odds of someone winning anything here is 0 in a million. I always get the notice that says, "someone with your initals will win". Or this one, "someone in your city will win"

Unknown said...

I have been entering for years. Do I think I will win? No. But I enter anyway. I never buy anything so in a way it's cheaper than buying a lotto ticket that btw I haven't won anything from that either. Hopes and dreams are fun. People go to the casino, buy scratchoffs at the party store, and pull tabs as the bar. In the meantime, save your money for retirement.

Inge in colorado said...

I got to this site by entering
"how many times do you have to confirm your entry, before pch stops threats of forfeiture ?" for their "serach to win" thing.

I've been told my entry is confirmed roughly 12 times already,
but I keep getting more e-mails asking me to confirm my entry again and again and again.
It's their ploy to get you to look at the magazines and stuff for the fitieth time.....
Will I win ? I doubt it, like that one blogger said : It's an outright lie to say someone in your city will definitely win a price, and 5 years have gone by
without them ever having set foot in his state, much less his city

How stupid do they think peaople are? I feel sorry for the 'little old people' that actually spend some of their small, fixed incomes
trying to show good faith....

k96192012 said...

Yes I have also wondered about the daily email for me to is each new search a added entry? Or do I only get one per contest?

Alan Caruba said...

K9, I do not know the answer to your question, but the odds of winning the big cash prize is probably much the same as buying a lottery ticket.

Unknown said...

They actually print that buying stuff will not give you a greater chance at winning. I never buy but i enter daily. I didn't expect to win anything but what's it hurt to try? I just do it online. I don't think I could do the snail mail tho

Unknown said...

Pch is clearly a scam... in this day of social media I have never seen anyone blog/tweet/fb that they have won... even after a google and Bing search. .. when the old gullible folks die out I wonder how they will target the social media generation.. I'm sure they will have an app for that soon..smh

Rhonda Blair said...

People DO win, that's a fact. The odds are very high, but to call it a scam is unfair. Going in you are told very clearly that you DO NOT HAVE TO PURCHASE a thing. Purchasing will not increase your odds of winning.
It's a lot better than playing the Lotto, which requires that you do pay.
It may not be your bag, but for some it is.
If I win, I'll post back her to let you know. The odds are against me, but I like to play.

Unknown said...

I've won something. People do win.

Marcia said...

Chris, I don't mind getting email from PCH once in a while but it's getting to be excessive. I have been getting the same email asking me to confirmed my entry. I have already confirmed 5-7 times. How many more confirmation PCH needs from a person? I will not respond anymore to PCH for the same entry. If I win I win. By the way, I never buy anything from the PCH ad, because it is a requirement and will not increase my chance of winning. No more email please. Thanks. Marsha

Joseward1 said...

So you're telling me there's a chance!?