Personal Finance

How to protect your privacy if you hit the $415 million Mega Millions jackpot

Key Points
  • The cash option for the Mega Millions jackpot is $248.8 million.
  • Only a handful of states allow you to claim lottery winnings anonymously.
  • In some states, you can set up a trust or other legal entity to receive the money, which would protect your identity.

If there's a jackpot winner in the next Mega Millions drawing, someone is going to have a very, very happy New Year.

The top prize has climbed to $415 million for Tuesday night's drawing. The last time someone hit the jackpot was Oct. 23, when a single ticket sold in South Carolina nabbed a whopping $1.537 billion.

The owner of that valuable slip of paper, who has until late April claim the prize, has not yet come forward. Yet even when the money is claimed, the world might never know who won — winners are allowed to remain anonymous in the Palmetto State.

Photo by Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images staff

However, the next prizewinner might not easily shield their identity.

Only a handful of states allow you to claim lottery wins anonymously. In some states, you might be able to collect your windfall via a trust or other legal entity to keep your name out of the public eye. In others, it's unavoidable.

While the current $415 million top prize is less than a third of that unclaimed $1.5 billion windfall, it's nothing to sneeze at. Even after paying taxes, the winner's take would put them among the wealthier people in the country.

The upfront cash amount — the option most winners go with — is $248.8 million. The federal government will withhold 24 percent for taxes, reducing it by about $59.7 million to $189.1 million. And unless you live where there's no state income tax or lottery wins are untaxed, you can face state withholding that can reach 8.82 percent, depending on where you live. You can also expect to owe more at tax time.

If you manage to beat the astronomical odds against winning the Mega Millions — your chance is 1 in 302 million — here are some expert tips to try protecting your privacy.

Get off the Internet

If you can't remain anonymous when you collect your winnings, shut down your social media accounts in advance, said Jason Kurland, a partner at Rivkin Radler, a law firm in Uniondale, New York.

"The media will try to find as many pictures of a winner as possible, and social media is the first place to look," said Kurland, who specializes in helping lottery winners. "You also want to make sure there's as little personal information out there like your phone number or address."

In other words, don't make it easy for scammers and snoopers to track you down. If you have a landline phone, make sure it's unlisted before you head to lottery headquarters.

Top 10 lottery jackpots

Rank Amount Date won Game Winner locations
1$1.586 billionJan. 13, 2016PowerballCA-FL-TN
2$1.54 billionOct. 23, 2018Mega Millions SC
3$758.7 million Aug. 23, 2017 Powerball MA
4$687.8 millionOct. 27, 2018PowerballIA-NY
5$656 million Mar. 30, 2012 Mega Millions KS-IL-MD
6$648 million Dec. 17, 2013 Mega Millions CA-GA
7$590.5 million 18-May-13Powerball FL
8$587.5 million Nov. 28, 2012 Powerball AZ-MO
9$564.1 million Feb. 11, 2015 Powerball NC-PR-TX
10$559.7 million Jan. 6, 2018 Powerball NH

Plan an escape

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."

Consider spending effects

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 newfound wealth, but if anonymity is a main concern, it can be a difficult balance to strike."

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