Sweepstakes Scam Examples: Federal Marshals, Larry Hourd, More

Law enforcement members don't deliver sweepstakes prizes.

Photo of a woman receiving an oversized check.
Can you tell fake PCH wins from the real thing?. Image © Chip Simons / Getty Images

Scam Example: Federal Marshals Don't Deliver PCH Prizes

Scam artists use many different tactics to make themselves sound like they are trustworthy, including posing as law enforcement officials.

One famous scam example is a person claiming to be a federal marshall on the Publisher's Clearing House Prize Patrol.

The sweepstakes scam starts with a phone call from someone claiming to be a Federal Marshal or another type of law enforcement agent.

They tell the person who answers the phone that they are from the PCH Prize Patrol, and they are going to deliver a prize of $90,000 or more to their home. They just need the so-called winner to wire them some money first to cover "insurance."

This scam example has already used two of my Top Warning Signs of Sweepstakes Scams: warning sign #1, "Sweepstakes Scams Require You Pay to Receive the Prize" and Warning Sign #10, "Sweepstakes Scams Can Pose As Government Organizations."

If a real law enforcement officer does call your home, you can always ask for a name, department, and badge number, and call their precinct or agency to verify that the officer is legitimate. Be sure to look up the number of the law enforcement agency yourself. It's easy for a scammer to get a friend to pose as a supervisor to verify his story.

Publisher's Clearing House also offers a phone number you can call to verify whether you've really won a prize.

You can find it in my Publisher's Clearing House FAQ.

In addition, remember that the Publisher's Clearing House Prize Patrol does not include law enforcement officers. Federal Marshals do not call people with win notifications. And most of all, you never have to wire money to anyone to receive a legitimate prize.

Sweepstakes Scam Example: Larry Hourd and the Kansas City Award Notification Commission

This scam is just barely legal, but it clearly tries to trick people into sending money to win a prize, something that no legitimate sweepstakes would ever do.

It works like this: the scam victim receives an official-looking letter in the mail from Larry Hourd and the Kansas City Award Notification Commission, which seems to state that he or she has won a huge prize worth a million or two million dollars.

The letter also appears to request a fee (sometimes reported as $11.89, sometimes more) to claim the prize.

At this point, your alarm bells should be ringing. Hopefully, you know you never need to pay to claim a prize, and you know that you wouldn't be able to claim a prize that large without an affidavit

If you read the fine print carefully, you'll find that the company is misleading you. You haven't won a prize yet. Rather, you will win a prize if you return the entry form, and if your randomly-assigned number matches the winning number. And what are the odds of that happening?

Oh, and that fee? It's actually just to get a coupon book, nothing to do with the sweepstakes at all.

So is it a legal sweepstakes?

Maybe, but I wouldn't give my information to any company that used tactics that are so misleading.

For more information, watch this Kansas City Award Notification Commisison Scam Video from the BBB.