The Scam that Rocked the McDonald's Monopoly Game

Can You Trust the McDonald's Monopoly Sweepstakes?

McDonald's Launches Its Largest-Ever Promotion
Can You Trust the McDonald's Monopoly Game?. Tim Boyle / Getty Images


McDonald's hasn't run its Monopoly games in the United States for many years. It's unclear whether this game will ever return.

Have you heard that the Monopoly Game at McDonald's is a scam, or that it's rigged so that only McDonald's employees can win the big prizes? Ever wondered whether the rumors are true, or if you'd be better off not even trying to win the game?

McDonald's Monopoly Game is not a scam. It's a legitimate giveaway that offers chances to win big prizes worth up to a million dollars. Plus, McDonald's Monopoly gives away lots of other prizes as well — free food, small cash prizes, gift cards, product coupons, and more.

So why does the McDonald's game have a bad reputation?

The McDonald's Monopoly Game Scandal

McDonald's Monopoly Game's good reputation was tarnished by a scam that took place during the late 90s through the early 2000s.

During that time, McDonald's hired Simon Marketing, Inc. to administrate its sweepstakes. A sweepstakes administrator's job is to make sure that giveaways are run fairly and without allegations of fraud. A company cannot be accused of favoring particular winners if it is not involved in the prize award process.

Unfortunately, in this case, an employee at Simon Marketing was corrupt.

From 1995 through 2000, Simon Marketing's security director, Jerome Jacobson, abused his position to steal the top game pieces from the Monopoly Game, as well as other McDonald's promotions. He then sold the winning tickets or distributed them to people he knew for a share of the loot.

By misusing his trusted position, Jacobson embezzled $13 million dollars from McDonald's and denied prizes to rightful winners.

Unexpectedly, a little bit of good came from the scam. One of the stolen million-dollar game pieces was donated to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital. Even after McDonald's realized that the piece had been stolen, they still honored the donation to help sick children.

Though the scam ran for several years, it was eventually uncovered. The FBI investigated the scandal, and Jacobson and eight of his co-conspirators were caught, convicted, and sent to jail.

Although it involved their giveaway, McDonald's was a victim of this scandal and not a perpetrator. No McDonald's employees were involved in the scam, and no problems have surfaced in recent years.

McDonald's Response to the Monopoly Scam

After the scandal came to light, McDonald's fired Simon Marketing and put a number of new security measures in place.

In a press release made at the time the corruption was uncovered, McDonald's said:

McDonald's has a rigorous and thorough security protocol in place for running the 2009 McDonald's Monopoly Game at McDonald's, from Game Piece production and application, to secure warehousing, shipping, and distribution in the restaurants. McDonald's security protocol touches every individual associated with the 2009 Monopoly Game at McDonald's.

McDonald's wasn't the only firm to stop using Simon Marketing to run their giveaways. Nearly overnight the company, which had been in business since 1976, lost about 75% of its revenues as other big brands rushed to distance themselves from the scandal. However Simon Worldwide, the parent company, still exists today.

McDonald's Monopoly Game Scams Do Still Exist, Though

The Monopoly game is legitimate. However, like many other big giveaways, sweepstakes scammers can and do target its players.

For example, a scam that pops up year after year involves game piece trading, which McDonald's has prohibited in order to protect potential victims.

If It's Not a Scam, Why Don't You Hear About More People Winning the McDonald's Monopoly Game?

The prizes in McDonald's Monopoly Game are legit and distributed to the public. Every time it runs, thousands of people win smaller prizes like gift cards, free food, and more, but the big prizes are handed out as well. For one example, check out this interview with a $100,000 McDonald's Monopoly winner.

But even though those big prizes are legitimate, they're not easy to win. The game pieces for the big prizes are extremely elusive. For example, the odds of winning the million-dollar Monopoly prize in 2016 in the United States were 1 in more than 513 million. And that's assuming that the one elusive game piece you need for that million dollars isn't lost or thrown away.

To see how close you are to winning a big prize, check out the Rare McDonald's Game Pieces.

Although the chances of winning a million dollars are extremely long, however, entering the McDonald's Monopoly Game isn't just a waste of time. Tons of prizes are given away, from free fries to trips and electronics. And if you don't want to buy McDonald's food, you can always send away for free game pieces by mail.

So if you have the opportunity to play, go ahead and do it without fear of being scammed. But remember that while your odds of winning a smaller prize are pretty great, the million-dollar jackpot is a longshot.