When my husband and I returned home from a couple short trips, there was a message on our answering machine from the Publishers Clearing House. I was not impressed. I waited two days before giving my husband the number.

Deborah Holland, the executive vice president, picked up on the second ring. We had won $2.5 million and a new white Mercedes. Arrangements needed to be made for the “prize patrol” to come to our house, and she wanted to explain the taxes. 

Deborah insisted I be on the line also. 

Could this be real? I mean, somebody has to win. Why couldn’t it be us? Maybe God wanted to bless us — or maybe it wasn’t true at all. Simultaneously, I caught my breath and lip-synced to my husband, “I think it’s a scam.”

Deborah spent over an hour on the phone with us, first convincingly denying a scam and then reviewing the arrival of our check and filing our 2019 taxes. When I insisted this was not real (while silently hoping I was wrong), Deborah became defensive. 

“Have I asked for any of your personal information? No! Have I sounded like I don’t know what I’m talking about? No!”

My husband and I were moved from not real to maybe.

After lots of legal tax talk, Deborah wanted to know if we wanted the check delivered with a lot of fanfare or more quietly. 

“Some of our winners don’t want the entire neighborhood to know they’re suddenly rich,” she said. “It creates a situation of potential theft. In fact, would you like us to wait and come by in the morning when you can go directly to your bank? That might be safer.”

We said we’d prefer to wait until morning. 

Deborah said she’d get ahold of the prize patrol and call us right back, which she did. 

“They are at the Holiday Inn,” she said before giving us the address. It was a few miles from us and a very real place. 

“I caught them in time. I’ll give you a call about 8:30 in the morning to finalize delivery,” she said.

My husband only had one more question by then. 

“What model is the Mercedes?” he asked. 

Deborah checked. 

“An X-Class.”

As soon as we hung up the phone I checked the internet. X-Class is a Mercedes truck, an odd looking vehicle in my opinion. I recommended we sell it.

There was much to consider in the night. How would we spend the money? With whom would we share it? Would our friends remain friends because we might give them some, or because they genuinely like us? And what about the grown children? Equal blessings or favor the one who checks on us each day and never misses a holiday?

My husband and I looked at every component of the life we’ve built together and realized that we are already rich. God supplies all our “needs” and most of our “wants.” We aren’t wealthy by the world’s standards, and we never expected to be.

What about God? Do I honestly love Him according to how much He blesses me? Does more get more? Or do I love Him simply because He is? In the Old Testament God says His name is “I AM,” not “I give you.”

Deborah Hammond called in the morning to confirm the prize patrol. We just needed to do one more thing — pay a couple thousand dollars in a cashier’s check to cover the cost of a “gold seal” that our bank would need in order to cash the large check.

It was all an elaborate scam.

“A bonanza at the beginning is no guarantee of blessing at the end.” (Proverbs 20:21)


Sylvia Peterson is a former co-pastor for Bald Hill Community Church and an author. She and her husband are chaplains for the Bald Hills Fire Department. You can email her at sylviap7@comcast.net.

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