I think that most people who receive the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes junk mail immediately toss it into the recycling bin. This is probably why the company felt the need to send out a bizarre letter to us ahead of time that implored us to watch the mail for the giant packet.
What does it take to win the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes? The answer, of course, is that you have to enter it (and hope for the best). The process involved with trying to enter it is so complex, strange, and tedious that I decided to blog about it. If Publishers Clearing House is truly is so excited to have someone win a bunch of money – you’d think they’d make their sweepstakes super easy to enter.
It all started with a junk mail that was addressed to my husband, Shawn. Our address was correct, but they had a typo in the name. He was listed as “Shawna”. These sort of typos are a clear sign that the contents of the letter are a waste of time and should be immediately tossed into the recycling bin.
This letter, however, was a bit different. The outside of the envelope, and the first part of the letter inside, said: ***IMPORTANT NEWS REGARDING THE MAILING YOU’LL BE RECEIVING WITHIN THE NEXT 2 DAYS***
The wording on this letter was designed to prey upon people. “Not everyone will receive this message.” The letter implied that Publishers Clearing House personally decided that they want YOU to get the very best chance of winning their sweepstakes. As in, they like you more other people and want to give you a better chance of winning.
Obviously, that’s a lie. First of all, I suspect that, despite what the letter said, EVERYONE received this message, thus negating any potential advantage of being chosen to receive this letter – that advises you to watch for the incoming junk mail from Publishers Clearing House. Secondly, I’m fairly certain that fooling around with the way the winners of a sweepstakes are chosen, by giving some people (but not everyone) a better chance of winning, is illegal.
The letter gives details about what you, the person that has been specially selected, could win. Among the prizes were: $2,000,000.00 immediately – plus $10,000.00 a month for life – and possibly a Brand New Car to go along with it. I highly doubt that Publishers Clearing House knew they were sending this letter to a couple who are both disabled, who filed for bankruptcy a few years ago, and who live in a mobile home park. Even so, it feels wrong to send letters like this one – that suggest we have been given a better chance of winning a ton of money and a Brand New Car – to people who are as poor as we are.
Oh, and Shawn just so happens to be legally blind – and the letter is (sort of ) addressed to him. What, exactly, does Publishers Clearing House think a person who cannot drive due to impaired vision would do with a Brand New Car?
Another problematic thing about this letter is that it spelled Shawn’s name wrong. Publishers Clearing House thinks his name is “Shawna”, which sounds like a woman’s name. To this, Shawn joked, “It’s 2016. I can be gender fluid if they wanna give me $2,000,000.00.” Fair enough.
The letter also tries make us feel guilty about throwing it, and the incoming packet of sweepstakes junk mail, directly into the recycle bin. It states they will “take a special early look on drawing day” to see if our number was returned. “We’ll be extra disappointed if it went unclaimed.”
True to their word, Publishers Clearing House did mail out a fat envelope within a few days after we received their letter. It did contain the “3 extra bonus prize numbers” that were promised in the letter. One would think that if Publishers Clearing House thought we were special enough to not only get a “heads up” letter about the Sweepstakes, but also to give us 3 extra bonus prize numbers, that they would make it easy to enter the sweepstakes. Not so!
The Publishers Clearing House packet desperately tried to convince us that it was important. “NOTICE OF MANDATORY COMPLIANCE FOR IMMINENT WINNER SELECTION“. At a glance, the word “mandatory” makes it seem like something bad will happen if you ignore this junk mail. It implies a government agency will send a collections agent, or impose a fine, if you don’t comply. This is misleading.
The big green sticker that is slapped across the front of the envelope says: “FINAL STEP REQUIRED”. This, too, is misleading. It implies that “Shawna” took the time to fill out and send in …whatever the previous steps were…. and somehow forgot to finish the final step. In reality, neither Shawn, nor I, did anything at all other than take the mail out of our mailbox when it arrived.
The description on the green sticker starts with “Per PCH regulations…”, which misleadingly sounds as though some government agency is letting you know that you have failed to do something that breaks a regulation of some sort. Shawn and I can see right through all this. But, would someone who was elderly, or who had English as a second language, or who simply wasn’t educated enough to be able to discern actual government mail from junk mail, really understand what they were looking at?
The wording on the back of the envelope sounds quite threatening:
It says: Just want to flag the importance of this communication. You are strongly urged to read the contents of this envelope and take note of the consequences should you fail to respond as directed herein. What is this, a subpoena? Nope, just an overly dramatic sweepstakes.
The way Publishers Clearing House presents their sweepstakes (something absolutely no one is required to participate in) is despicable. It is sad that they feel the need to trick people into entering it. They are being dishonest.
The letter sounded all friendly, as though Publishers Clearing House was our friend, who just wanted to make sure we got an extra couple of chances to win the sweepstakes. The sweepstakes envelope, however, comes across as threatening.
Just for the heck of it, I decided to go through the fat sweepstakes envelope, to see what a person would have to actually do in order to enter the sweepstakes. To my surprise, it was much more difficult and time consuming than I’d anticipated.
The content inside the envelope was wrapped in this folded, paper, “document carrier”. It shows that “Shawna” has passed steps 1, 2, and 3. Those must be the 3 extra bonus prize numbers that the letter mentioned. The font on the “document carrier” is designed to look as though a human took the time to hand write a note to “Shawna”. It looks like someone wrote with a black marker. This is designed to trick people into thinking that some anonymous person at Publishers Clearing House wants you to win so much that they were willing to risk sending you a sneakily written “hint”.
In bright yellow sticker is the “Pending Final Step”. It says “use this label”. But, where is that label supposed to go? The little red print says to affix the label to Form W-21. The only way to find that form is to dig through the pile of papers that were in the envelope.
The back of the “document carrier” paper once again says: “please do not ignore this notice!” This part has large type that says: “NOTICE OF MANDATORY COMPLIANCE FOR IMMINENT WINNER SELECTION”. Mandatory compliance? That’s an oxymoron. One either has to do something that is mandatory, or willingly chooses to comply with something. I’m not sure what they were going for there when they selected that wording, but it comes across as confusing and somewhat threatening. One should not feel threatened when digging though a packet of (unasked for) papers while trying to fill out a thing for a sweepstakes.
Here’s a page filled with fake checks. They are printed on the page and cannot be picked up individually.
But wait, there’s more! This page has what looks sort of like a cash voucher of some kind. It says: “PRIZES ARE RESERVED FOR TIMELY ENTRANTS FROM A W-21 NOTICE ONLY, WILL YOU BE ONE OF OUR WINNERS?” The W-21 form is the thing you put the yellow sticker on. It is unclear why Publishers Clearing House decided to call the paper you put the yellow sticker on a W-21 (which sounds like a tax form) instead of…. I dunno… an “entry”.
Oh, and this same page points out that somewhere in the pile of papers is a Bingo card where “WINNERS ARE GUARANTEED!”
Anything that has a big, red, WARNING at the top of it sounds a bit threatening. This page has an underlined part that says: “failure to properly enter with the number herein will result in automatic forfeiture”. Forfeiture of what, exactly? In a red box at the bottom, “Shawna’s” name is highlighted in yellow. The box says: “Our records show you do not have a recent entry and are at risk of not responding. Please do not ignore–you are urged to now enter your number from this notice.”
After digging through all this paper, I’ve finally come to the part that clarifies that you are expected to buy something. Legally speaking, a sweepstakes isn’t allowed to require a person to buy something before they can enter a sweepstakes. However, in this specific situation, Publishers Clearing House isn’t breaking the law. Let me explain.
The Publishers Clearing House website has a section about Fraud Protection. Part of it states: At PCH the winning is always free and you NEVER have to pay to claim a prize reward. Recognizing the difference between legitimate sweepstakes and other types of offers that may not be legitimate will help protect yourself and your family.
The top part of this paper says: ORDER REQUIRED TO ACTIVATE CUSTOMER REWARDS. Publishers Clearing House is not asking you to spend money to enter the sweepstakes. But, while you are here…. digging through the pile of papers, trying to find the form to put the sticker on…. maybe you might want to buy some magazines? In addition, at the bottom of the letter it says: SEND NO MONEY NOW – WITH ANY ORDER.
At first glance, I thought this paper was telling me that I had to buy something in order to enter the sweepstakes. Looking closer, I can see that it is not what this paper actually said. Somehow, it was the message I received, though. In the middle of the paper it mentions that your order is “completely risk free” and that you get to enjoy “free inspections” and a “no-hassle return & cancellation policy”.
The implication is that you can make an order and then immediately cancel it and avoid spending money. Now, I used to work as a telemarketer, in an employment situation that involved sales. Based on my experience, most people forget they made the order and end up spending money on something they might not have really wanted – and few actually make the effort to figure out how to cancel the order/subscription/whatever it was.
I’m sure that Publishers Clearing House knows that, too. In their case, I believe it is legal. Can’t say the same for some of the shady telemarketing companies I’ve worked for when I was in college.
This is the second paper in the pile that uses a highlighted box to get attention. “There’s no record of any recent order from you on file. We would love for you to place an order.” The second sentence is the most honest, straightforward, piece of writing I’ve seen so far.
I FINALLY FOUND THE BINGO CARD!
Any interest I might have had in playing with the Bingo card when I started digging through the papers has disappeared. Things were getting tedious, and somewhat confusing, and I had developed an aversion to the bizarre series of changing emotional tones that each paper in the packet exuded. I have yet to locate the actual entry form where the yellow sticker goes.
The photo above, and the one below, show about 1/3 of the amount of offers that were inside the envelope from Publishers Clearing House. (I didn’t count the number of stamps, so I estimated. There’s a chance it felt like a TON of offers because I was getting really bored with sifting through everything in the envelope.)
As I expected, they do sell subscriptions to a bunch of different magazines. What I did not realize is that they also sell a bunch of other random junk. Some include: “Corn stripper”, “Wolf Dream Catcher”, “Coca-Cola Vending Machine Salt & Pepper Shakers” and whatever a “Money Machine” is. To me, it sounded like the type of stuff that you see ads for in magazines that primarily sell to senior citizens, and inside envelopes that supposedly contain coupons (like from Valpak).
At the bottom of the pile of papers was the actual entry form.
Take a look at the top of this “official entry-order document”. It is called a FORM W-21. For those who are unaware, there is a tax form in the United States called a W-2. It is the form that your employer sends you that shows how much money you made in a year. The W-2 is one of the things that people have to submit when they fill out their state and federal taxes.
Everyone who has ever held a job in the United States (that wasn’t contract work or freelancing) has received a W-2 form. People know to look for the forms in the mail so they can fill out their taxes. There is no doubt in my mind that Publishers Clearing House named their sweepstakes entry the way they did. “Form W-21” is awfully close to “W-2”.
I think PCH hopes people will automatically assume that their entry form is much more important and necessary to fill out than it really is – simply because people associate a form with “W-2” on it to be mandatory. Oh, and let’s not forget that PCH used the word “mandatory” more than once in the pile of papers they sent out. I’m sure this is legal – but it feels very dishonest and shifty.
The FORM W-21 states that there are three things that a person needs to do in order to enter the PCH sweepstakes. Or, to be more accurate, there are three things you should do before returning “official entry-order document enclosed”. So, now its an “entry-order document”?
“We don’t want you to miss out on anything important in this Bulletin. Here are our top 3 picks for what you should do before responding:” the Bulletin says.
- Claim Your Prize Number in Part 1. This is the part that tries to show where to put the yellow sticker that I found at the very beginning of this tedious process.
- Consider trying an offer in Part 2. Note that it says “consider” – it doesn’t say “mandatory”. This part shows me how to affix the order stamps to the official entry-order document. The way it is presented is designed to make people think that they must make an order. Sure, the bulletin doesn’t specifically say you must affix some order stamps to your official entry-order document, but the implication is there. I mean, they presented this piece of information right in between instructions on where to post the stickers that actually are part of the sweepstakes entry.
- Confirm Compliance Complete in Part 3. This part shows you where to put the green sticker that says “compliance complete”. I don’t remember seeing that sticker anywhere. If I was going to enter the sweepstakes, I’d have to go back through the pile of papers to find the green sticker.
Finally, I get to the part where the stickers are supposed to go on the official entry-order document. Part 1 has an arrow that points to where the yellow sticker goes. Hang on a minute… what about those 3 extra entries that the original letter mentioned? It turns out that they weren’t what I though they were. Looking back, the letter said they were “3 extra bonus prize numbers”. I assumed that meant they were 3 extra entries.
The first one says: Thorpe selected to receive Bulletin W-21
The second one says: Thorpe’s Prize Number cleared eligible for Gwy #6900.
The third one says: Thorpe’s Number approved for upcoming Winner Selection process for June 30th Prize Event.
In other words, the “3 extra bonus prize numbers” are pretty much useless. “Shawna” did not get 3 extra entries to the sweepstakes after all. I’m not sure exactly why I though they were extra entries in the first place – but I did think that. Two of these three items just state that “Shawna” can receive …. the stuff that is in the pile of papers. I’ve no idea what the middle one means.
Back to the “entry-order document”. The middle part has an arrow that circles around words that say: “We’d love to see you place an order. Thank you.” Nothing on the entry form says that “Shawna” must order something. The implication is there, though. Leaving the space empty would give it the illusion that the “entry-order document” had not been completely filled out.
Underneath it, in small letters, it says: NO PURCHASE OR FEE NECESSARY TO ENTER. A PURCHASE WON’T IMPROVE AN INDIVIDUAL’S CHANCE OF WINNING. I think Publishers Clearing House needed to put that in much larger font. Of course, if they made it easier to see that you don’t have to buy something in order to enter the sweepstakes – it might influence people to enter the sweepstakes without spending money.
Keep in mind, at all times, that Publishers Clearing House is not really there because they want to help poor people win a lot of money (or a brand new car). No, PCH is there to make a profit by selling magazine subscriptions, and random junk, to people. Yes, Publishers Clearing House has donated to charities. But, they aren’t really there to donate to YOU. The majority of people who enter the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes do not win anything at all. (But most of them probably bought a magazine subscription because they felt like the were supposed to).
There’s where the Bingo card goes.
I dug through the pile of papers one more time and found the green sticker. I hate that it says “Compliance Complete” on it. That makes no sense. If someone wants to enter the sweepstakes, they pretty much have to put the sticker onto the “entry order document”. This paper refers to the “entry-order document” as “Entry Form W-21”. When you put together the misleadingly named W-21 (that sounds like a tax form) and the sticker that says “Compliance”…. it implies that the person who received the unasked for mail from Publishers Clearing House has to follow the instructions or something bad will happen.
Overall, I would not recommend entering the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes unless you happened to be in need of some magazine subscriptions or a toilet brush or a “money machine” (whatever that is). It is unlikely that you are going to win ANY of the prizes offered. Save yourself the trouble of wading through the randomly tone changing pile of papers – that go from friendly to threatening and back again- and just toss the entire envelope into the recycle bin.