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Publishers Clearing House: Results of unofficial six month probe

Sweepstakes company investigated by Senate Committee on Aging is advertising these prizes this year.
Sweepstakes company investigated by Senate Committee on Aging is advertising these prizes this year.PCH Facebook

On May 16, 2014, the Atlanta Top News Examiner completed a six month probe into the direct marketing company Publishers Clearing House. The unofficial look into the prize-awarding organization was well in advance of the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging's investigation, which was looking into alleged deceptive marketing practices by the company.

Publishers Clearing House reminds sweepstakes entrants that purchasing items or magazines from the company is not necessary in order to win prizes.
Publishers Clearing House reminds sweepstakes entrants that purchasing items or magazines from the company is not necessary in order to win prizes.PCH Facebook Dave Sayer

And like the Senate investigation, this informal probe by the Top News Examiner Radell Smith was motivated in part by negative public comments about PCH, but which this Examiner came upon by happenstance when viewing the company's Facebook pages for Danielle Lam, Dave Sayer and Todd Sloan. In addition, she found negative comments made on the company's other Facebook pages, such as PCH Games, PCH Search and Win, and PCH Lotto, etcetera.

To their credit, the direct marketing company did not try to remove the negative comments made about their organization, or block those who made them from continuing to do so. Instead, they appeared to try and educate the posting person about their policies and procedures, which they felt the Facebook user did not understand.

Not one to take any social media post (negative or praiseworthy) as the gospel, this Examiner chose to open a PCH account and start participating in the company's many different sweepstakes opportunities firsthand, hoping to either confirm legitimate practices were being engaged in by the sweepstakes company (because I like the idea of people winning big without having to pay to enter or to buy something), or to warn current participants of any deceptive practices being engaged in, so they could choose a fairer sweepstakes setup to participate in if they wanted to.

In addition, and long after this probe had begun, there was also a keen interest in finding out if participants really could win without purchasing anything, as the Senate Committee on Aging reported may not be the case when they released their mid-April report findings. At that time, they said that many of the elderly who play Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes opportunities believe they have to buy something in order to win, with some spending thousands of their limited budget dollars as a result of that belief. And many of them can ill-afford to do so.

On Wednesday, May 14, PCH Prize Patrol team member Dave Sayer insisted on his company Facebook page that it is possible to win without buying anything. And based upon the tone of the wording used on the post, it appears he has issued such a statement before, or at least the company has done so. This Examiner noticed the published disclaimer stating as much on online sweepstakes entry forms when she began her PCH website participation six months ago, and she purposely chose to not buy anything, to see if she might win anyway.

After six months of daily play on all the PCH sites (which include PCH Search and Win, PCH Lotto, PCH Twilight Lotto, PCH Games, PCH Slots, and PCH Instant Win opportunities, as well as the PCH Facebook opportunities such as PCH Prize Central, PCH Lucky Loot Wheel and Edwin's Hatch and Win), and the token redemption section on their website--and, in addition to daily entrance into all of the PCH sweepstakes opportunities (24 in all, including each SuperPrize advertised)--her daily participation required approximately 2-3 hours of time per day to complete, and she did it for about 180 days in a roll, but she did not win one single prize.

Not one prize. Not ever.

On May 15, on the PCH Blog, Debbie K., a PCH Creative employee pointed out that Natasha Davis has been playing for three years, and she believes in winning streaks, and is "in it to win it" at Publishers Clearing House. But she has not won anything yet either, according to Natasha, who told Debbie that "I do want to have a winning streak of my own Debbie, and that's to win from PCH," saying that she is "entering everyday in hopes to be the next winner."

Another person highlighted in that particular Publishers blog post by Debbie was Marianne, who says that she has played through the mail and began entering online in 2007. Based on Debbie's post, Marianne has realized wins totaling approximately $95 altogether in the many years that she has played, with the $5.00 prize for playing Edwin's Hatch and Win as her favorite win so far, even though she won $50 on PCH Search and Win at one time. Marianne has been playing for at least seven years, hoping to one day win a super prize from the company, but thus far has only $95 to show for her daily participation.

This Examiner did not ever receive or study company mailings, so she cannot weigh in with any findings in that regard. However, the Senate Committee had stated in their report on the investigation into PCH that mailings by the direct marketing company do seem to push the envelope in making the elderly think they need to buy something anyway, in order to better their odds of winning. You can read those findings here: Senate Committee on Aging's PCH investigation report.

The results of the probe by the Atlanta Top News Examiner were mixed overall, as one might assume, but the key results worth mentioning are listed directly below:

  • Of the 24 sweepstakes entries promoted on the PCH.com website and the company's Facebook pages, the vast majority of them, like this $75,000 sweepstakes, have not been awarded in the past six months, even though some of them had a deadline for entry date of 12/31/13 initially.

That deadline for entry date has been changed twice in the past six months. First, it was changed to 3/31/14, then it was changed again to 6/30/14. Does that mean the company is engaged in a practice some refer to as "always dangling the carrot just out of reach of the horse" in order to keep the animal moving (or the player playing), without winning? Who knows? But since the giveaway numbers appear to have an "end of contest" date of 12/31/14 or 8/31/15, it will not be clear officially until those dates have come and gone without a winner in order to determine if deceptive practices are being engaged in, in this way.

  • Of the SuperPrize sweepstakes promoted online and in television ads ($5,000 a week for life, and $7,000 a week for life and $1 million a year for life) since November 2013-April 30, 2014, there has not been a super prize winner named. Instead, the second-chance drawing has produced a one million winner each time, which means the individual receives $25,000 a year for 29 years and then receives the balance of $725,000 in their 30th year of life, if they are still alive.

Should Publishers Clearing House be allowed to advertise prizes that no one ever wins? Any company that has had past winners of such prizes within the last year (like PCH did in August 2013 with the Michael Miller win, which was covered by Fox2Now), and who openly states in the media the procedures they follow in selecting winners (and who allow members of the press or others outside the company to validate such selections, like HGTV does with their dream home wins) should have the ability to advertise such prizes in this Examiner's opinion. It's a "buyers beware" situation, of course, when no one has won for three super prizes in a row, but it is still the right of the company to advertise.

It is, however, up to the consumer to determine if they think the odds are against them from the onset, based upon the continued lack of such a winner, and the obvious refusal of the company to tweak their system enough to finally produce a super prize win after three failed attempts. And one would think they would want to do that, as it helps gain new players and participants each time they can announce a super prize was won.

  • Some game and slot prizes advertised on the company's official website (like the $10 million prize and the $3 million dream home prize) have conflicting official rules and sweepstakes facts information. For example, one $10 million prize rules example states that the winner will get to choose from a lump sum payment of $4 million, while another rules page for the same prize (but on a different PCH website section) states that an annual payout in a much smaller amount will be paid over a period of 30 years. Ditto for the $3 million dream home. But who would undertake to build their dream home when they were only doled out thousands a year for 29 years, with the final large payout in the 30th year?

All in all, this Examiner found that when it comes to Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes and other winning opportunities from the company, the person playing needs to realize that the odds of winning are more than one billion and three hundred million against them ever winning a super prize like the current June 30 Dream Life Prize being advertised.

So if spending time every day entering and playing on the Publishers Clearing House (PCH.com) website is worth that long shot at winning a prize of $2 million upfront, $10,000 a month for life, and a Lincoln MKZ vehicle (even though no one has won other big super prizes for the past six months when advertised), then play on, especially if you see this as a fun diversion. Otherwise, your time might be better spent on other things, like time with your family--or working, if you can, as you may just be making this company rich and never win anything for your time and effort.