Publishers Clearing House is real, but those phone calls are not

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The promise of $5,000 a week for life sounds great, but does anyone ever win this prize? If you or someone you know has ever really won the Publishers Clearing House (PCH) sweepstakes, then this question is moot. But to the rest of us, the question seems relevant.

PCH is a real company that began in 1953 and is based in New York. Its core business is direct marketing for all types of merchandise. However, it seems that its main source of business is magazine subscriptions. As a way to entice consumers to respond to its offers instead of a competitorís offers, PCH began offering sweepstakes with chances to win tens of thousands and eventually millions of dollars.

Customers who bought these subscriptions were then led to believe that this would increase their odds of winning, but thatís never been the case. As it turns out, the headlines that screamed ďYouíve wonĒ have left consumers feeling deceived.

Even with the negative publicity, however, PCH remains extremely popular. Criminals have noticed this, too. As a result, a passel of fakers has cropped up using the PCH name to defraud people of money.

I received a call from a Post Falls woman who had been informed by phone she had won $500,000 in the PCH sweepstakes. The catch? She just had to pay taxes and fees of $2,500 so the award could be released to her. She asked what I thought.

Hereís my advice: If you are ever asked to pay money up front for a prize youíve supposedly won, itís a scam. PCH wonít ask you to pay anything up front. If you win a prize, they donít call winners; they show up on your doorstep. If you encounter a questionable scenario, itís likely scammers are using the PCH brand to trick you into paying for a prize that isnít real.

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DONíT PRESS 5!: Many robocalls are now giving you the option to press 5 (or another possible number) to opt out of future calls. While this might seem enticing to make these annoying calls stop, resist the urge. By pressing 5 youíre alerting the scammers that theyíve reached a working phone number.

Think of this instruction as a captcha (a spam test) for your phone instead of your computer. Many legitimate companies wanted to make sure real people were responding to their requests so they started asking you to verify some information or type in a word to distinguish human from machine input, which was designed to thwart online spam responses to the company.

So know scammers have figured out a way to use this logic to let them know if they have reached a real human or not. The best thing to do is hang up without pressing any key. If you do happen to answer the phone, never provide personal or financial information. Finally, even though the displayed phone numbers may be fake, you should still report it to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint or 1-888-382-1222. Better yet, donít answer the phone if you donít recognize the number.

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YOUR ORDER (HASNíT) ARRIVED: If you receive an email that says your order from Amazon or another online retailer has arrived or has been shipped, the email may ask you to click on a link. Resist the temptation. Itís a phishing scam attempting to get personal information from you by asking you to confirm your bank or other information.

If youíre unsure about an email, check the official website for the status of your order. If itís a phishing scam, it will say itís from a legitimate company like Amazon but when you click on the email address, youíll notice itís not from an Amazon domain. For example, the Amazon domain is amazon.com but letís say youíre receiving an email from amazon1.com. If you arenít paying attention, itís easy to overlook.

Itís also a good practice to never send personal information to an email address without first confirming that it is a legitimate business. Either call the customer service number or visit the online website directly and log into your account to confirm the status. That way you can see if there really are any issues with your order. And if youíre not awaiting an order, delete the email.

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Remember: Iím on your side.

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If you have encountered a consumer issue that you have questions about or think our readers should know about, please send me an email at terridickersonadvocate@gmail.com or call me at 208-274-4458. As The CDA Press Consumer Gal, Iím here to help. Please include your name and a phone number or email. Iím a full-time copywriter working with businesses on market messaging, a columnist and a consumer advocate living in Coeur díAlene.

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