With the Mega Millions jackpot swelling to $340 million for Friday night’s drawing, many ticket-holders probably are daydreaming about what they’d do with that kind of money.
They also should be thinking about how they'd protect their identity if they are lucky enough to win.
Experts say it’s the most important step to take, if possible, as a way to protect your sudden wealth. Unfortunately, it also isn’t always easy to do.
“The jackpots are so much larger than they were years ago, which automatically creates more interest,” said Jason Kurland, a partner at Rivkin Radler, a law firm in Uniondale, New York. “And social media lets news of a winner spread so rapidly that it’s impossible to control.”
While some states allow winners to easily remain anonymous, others do not. In some states, as long as you plan ahead, you can create a trust to receive your winnings as a way to avoid your name being attached to the money.
Of course, before you make any plans for claiming your prize, you should assemble a team of professionals who are experienced in helping lottery winners. That includes an attorney — this should be your first call — an accountant and a financial advisor. Choose these people carefully.
Here are some tips for trying to maintain a sense of privacy if you win big.
Your first urge might be to share your exciting news with, well, the world. However, the fewer people who know, the better. This is the case even if you are able to claim your prize anonymously.
“Obviously it may be impossible to keep this from immediate family, but news like this travels quickly,” said Kurland, who specializes in helping lottery winners. “Try to keep the circle of people who know as small as possible.”
Past prizewinners have discovered the hard way that long-lost friends and relatives can come out of the woodwork looking for loans or handouts.
If you won’t be able to remain anonymous when you collect your winnings, shut down your social media accounts in advance, Kurland said.
“The media will try to find as many pictures of a winner as possible, and social media is the first place to look,” Kurland said. “You also want to make sure there’s as little personal information out there like your phone number or address.”
While any determined snooper or scammer could probably track that information down, you don’t want to make it easy for them. If you have a landline phone, make sure it’s unlisted before you head to lottery headquarters.
Kurland said he advises his big-jackpot winners to skip town immediately after claiming their prize.
“Just being out of town for a few days can help,” Kurland said. “In this 24-hour news cycle, the interest in a winner will hopefully disappear after a few days. If you can avoid being around for a week, you might be able to escape the initial exposure.”
Even in states that let you collect your winnings anonymously, lottery officials might be legally permitted to reveal the town where you live.
“Everyone there will be looking around to see who is spending more, who quit their job, who is taking big vacations,” Kurland said. “Winners should enjoy their new-found wealth, but if anonymity is a main concern, it can be a difficult balance to strike.”