Are PCH Scratch-Off Cards Real or Scams?

I Won a PCH Scratch-Off Game. Why Haven't I Received My Money?

Man scratching lottery card with coin
PCH's scratch-off cards are not quite what you probably expect. Tetra Images / Getty Images

Don't Be Confused by Publishers Clearing House's Scratch-Off Cards

Have you ever received a scratch-off card in the mail from Publishers Clearing House and been excited to find out that you were a winner? But the excitement probably turned quickly into frustration and confusion when you realized there was no obvious way to claim your prize.

Many people receive these confusing scratch-offs with PCH mailings.

Usually, when you play a scratch-off game, you expect the card to reveal whether you've won a prize or not, but PCH's scratch-off cards don't do that.

The Fine Print of How PCH's Scratch-Off Cards Work:

Every scratch-off card that PCH sends is a "winner" in the sense that every card has a successful match printed on it. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean you've won a prize. Instead, the scratch-off card indicates which prize you will be in the running to win if you enter through that specific creative presentation. The fine print usually says that you've received the "opportunity" to win that prize.

In other words, you haven't won anything yet, and your scratch ticket doesn't indicate that you have better odds of winning than everyone else who returns an entry.

The only purpose of these scratch-off cards is to build excitement and to encourage people to enter PCH's sweepstakes. If you want to, you can simply throw those cards away without looking at them.

They won't affect your chances of winning, and they won't tell you anything new. You can find the same information about the prize you could win in the "sweepstakes facts" and the rules provided with your entry opportunity.

Controversy Over PCH's Scratch Tickets:

In 2001, Publishers Clearing House settled a deceptive marketing lawsuit by agreeing to follow certain restrictions that would prevent consumers from being misled by their mailings.

One of these restrictions read:

"PCH shall not use a scratch-off device that reveals information representing that the Recipient was lucky to receive the scratch-off device, or that the information communicated by the device is determined by luck, when in fact all or substantially all recipients received scratch-off devices bearing the same or substantially the same information.”

So do PCH's scratch-off cards violate the terms of that settlement? A report made by the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging called: Pushing the Envelope: Publishers Clearing House in the New Era of Direct Marketing implies that they might:

"The language and presentation may not only lead some recipients to believe they were lucky to get the $500 prize value, but may also lead them to believe they have won this prize—and not just an entry into a sweepstakes."

So there's a good chance that PCH will either discard the practice of sending scratch-off cards with their mailings or make the purpose of the cards clearer in the future.

Conclusion: Read the Fine Print!

When it comes to PCH: always, always, always read the fine print. PCH's sweepstakes rules are truthful and they contain useful information about entering and winning their prizes.

Reading them can prevent you from false hopes and from disappointment when winning is not as easy as you hoped.

When the rules say that you don't have to make a purchase to win, they mean it. When they say your odds of winning are absurdly long, they mean that, too. Publishers Clearing House really does give away millions of dollars every year to people who don't spend a dime on their products, but the sheer mass of people entering makes winning tricky.

PCH is not a charity, and they're not in the business of giving away money. They're in the business of selling magazines and other products, and successfully they use the hype of their sweepstakes to help them do that, a situation that's beneficial both to them as a company and to hopeful winners. But keep in mind that, despite the efforts of regulatory agencies, that hype can be misleading if you don't pay attention to the fine print.

So when you enter PCH sweepstakes, be sure to read the rules so that you know exactly what you are doing. The fine print can save you from unnecessary disappointment.