Are PCH Scratch-Off Cards Real or Scams?

Won a PCH Scratch-Off Game and Wondering Where Your Money Is?

Man scratching lottery card with coin
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Many people receive scratch-off cards from Publishers Clearing House in the mail, and get extremely excited when they find out that they've won. But that excitement quickly turns into frustration when they can't find a way to claim their prize.

PCH uses scratch-off cards to encourage people to play their big giveaways and to buy the products they're selling. Many people find them confusing — when you play a scratch-off game, you expect the card to reveal whether you've won a prize or not. PCH's scratch-off cards don't do that. And you have to read the fine print to realize it.

How PCH's Scratch-Off Cards Work — the Fine Print

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.

If you look carefully, the scratch-off card only indicates which prize you'll be in the running to win if you enter through that specific creative presentation. The fine print usually says you've received the "opportunity" to win that prize.


A "creative presentation" is a giveaway where one prize is entered through many different methods. PCH's big "SuperPrize" giveaway is a creative presentation because there are many separate ways of entering.

In other words, you can't win anything through the scratch-off game, nor does your ticket give you better odds of winning than anyone else who enters. 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 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 to 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."

Is There Any Way to Win From PCH Scratch-Offs?

PCH does offer online scratch-off games with real prizes as part of their PCH Games offerings. These are not related to the scratch-off tickets that arrive in the mail. They're legit, but the odds of winning are long.

Some of the prizes you can win from their online scratch-off games include cash prizes and tickets to exchange for entries into other giveaways.

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 trying to give away money to be nice. They're in the business of selling magazines and other products, and 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.

However, keep in mind that the hype can be misleading if you don't pay attention to the fine print.

When you enter PCH sweepstakes, be sure to read the ​rules so you know exactly what you're doing. Doing so can save you from wasting your time and from unnecessary disappointment.