Sweepstakes Scam Examples: Federal Marshals, Larry Hourd, More

How to Recognize Common Sweepstakes Scams

Image of a US Marshal's Badge
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Whether you participate in the sweepstakes hobby or not, you need to know how to recognize and avoid sweepstakes scams. Finding out that you've won a prize is such an exciting experience that it's easy to let your common sense fly out the window.

But forewarned is forearmed, so take this opportunity to learn how a few common sweepstakes scams work, so you will know right away when a scammer tries to use one of these tactics on you.

Scam Example: Federal Marshals Delivering PCH Prizes

The first thing that a scammer wants to do when they contact you is to make you trust them. Once you trust them, you're more likely to hand over money or information.

One of the ways that scammers establish trust is to pose as the most trustworthy kind of person: a law enforcement official.

One famous scam example is a person claiming to be a federal marshal on the Publisher's Clearing House Prize Patrol.

The sweepstakes scam starts with a phone call from someone claiming to be a federal marshal, a sheriff, or another type of law enforcement agent. They tell their victim that they are working with the PCH Prize Patrol, and they are going to deliver a prize of $90,000 or more to the victim's home. They just need the so-called winner to wire them some money first to cover "insurance" or other fees.

This should immediately be a huge red flag. Legitimate sweepstakes never ask you to pay taxes, insurance, or other fees before releasing the prize.

If a real law enforcement officer does call your home, you can always ask for a name, department, and badge number, and call their precinct or agency to verify that the officer is legitimate. Be sure to look up the number of the law enforcement agency yourself rather than asking the caller for a phone number to call. It's easy for a scammer to get a friend to pose as a supervisor to verify his story.

In addition, remember that the Publisher's Clearing House Prize Patrol does not include law enforcement officers and the Prize Patrol doesn't call in advance to notify big winners.

It would be hard to overlook a real PCH prize win, since the Prize Patrol will show up at your door with champagne, flowers, and a giant check! Read more about recognizing PCH scams.

Sweepstakes Scam Example: Larry Hourd and the Award Notification Commission

This scam tries to trick people into sending money to win a prize, something that no legitimate giveaway would ever do.

It works like this: the scam victim receives an official-looking letter in the mail from Larry Hourd and the Kansas City Award Notification Commission, which seems to state that he or she has won a huge prize worth a million dollars or more

The letter also appears to request a fee (sometimes reported as $11.89, sometimes more) to claim the prize.

At this point, your alarm bells should be ringing. Hopefully, you know you never need to pay to claim a prize, and you know that you wouldn't be able to claim a prize that large without an affidavit

If you read the fine print carefully, you'll find that the company is misleading you. You haven't won a prize yet. Rather, you will win a prize if you return the entry form and if your randomly-assigned number matches the winning number. And the odds of that happening are extremely long.

Oh, and that fee? It's actually just to get a coupon book, nothing to do with the sweepstakes at all.

For more information, watch this ​Award Notification Commission Scam Video from the Better Business Bureau.

Sweepstakes Scam Example: Text Message Prize Scams

Your cell phone buzzes, you check your texts or your WhatsApp messages and good news! You've won a prize! Gift cards are common prizes to lure people into this scam since they are exciting, but not big enough to automatically set off alarm bells.

The text includes a link to claim your prize and to get more information. But clicking on that link can be dangerous.

There are several ways that scammers can take advantage of that link click. They can use it to install malicious software on your phone to steal your personal information, to trick you into agreeing to pay monthly charges, to forward the scam to your contacts, to lead you to a spoof site to steal personal information, and more.

The best policy is to not respond to the text in any way and to delete it to your phone.

If you have received any of these sweepstakes scams, do not engage with the scammers. Instead, report the scam to the authorities and help them gather the information they need to shut down the scam.