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“Is it real? Is it not real?” Spotting a legitimate lottery and avoiding a sweepstakes scam

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MILWAUKEE -- You've seen the videos. The Publishers Clearing House Prize Patrol shows up on a doorstep and tells someone they've won a million dollars, but the reality is that your chance of encountering a scam sweepstakes is higher than your chance of winning one.

Gwendolyn Smith didn't want to be fooled after receiving  Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes scratch-off in the mail. Smith works seven days a week to support her family and the temptation to believe she was the next big winner was strong.

Smith works seven days a week to support her family and the temptation to believe she was the next big winner was strong.

"I'm like, 'Ok, is it real? Is it not real?'" Smith wondered. "I was excited. Like, good grace, there's no more savings up."

Gwendolyn Smith

After making a purchase online, Smith got the scratch-off ticket and she thought it was a $35,000 winner.

"Buy me a house. Buy me another vehicle," Smith said.

The excitement quickly turned to skepticism when Smith received paperwork for the sweepstakes.

"Seems like, they actually want you to buy first before you can get something," Smith said.

Looking for answers, Smith called FOX6's Contact 6 to look at the sweepstakes. 

According to the Better Business Bureau, the Publishers Clearing House is a common front for the sweepstakes scam.

"Publishers Clearing House is a legitimate business. They operate out of New York. Actually, they're an accredited business with the BBB," explained Jim Temmer, the President and CEO of the Wisconsin BBB.

The BBB says the Publishers Clearing House will not contact you on Facebook. It won't call you ahead of time if you've won more than $10,000. It never requires payment to receive winnings.

Contact 6 reached out to Publishers Clearing House to take a look at the paperwork Smith received in the mail. It turns out, the mailing was legitimate.

"That was a real Publishers Clearing House mailing that she received," said Chris Irving of Publishers Clearing House.

A closer look reveals Smith's ticket wasn't an instant winner. Instead, she won the opportunity to enter the sweepstakes. She was not required to buy anything, but she did have the option of ordering a magazine or another product.

"No purchase is never necessary to enter or win. In fact, the majority of our millionaire winners never ordered with their winning entry," Irving explained.

Smith thinks that could have been more clear.

"You just really gotta be careful," Smith warned.

The Publishers Clearing House says you can only enter their sweepstakes through a mailing or on their website. An entry is free and winning is free as well. There's a booklet in the mailing that explains the rules.

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