If you win the lottery, experts say, you should keep as quiet as possible about it. A lottery winner from Vacaville, California, whose situation escalated to the point where the police had to get involved, just learned that lesson the hard way.
As Lt. Chris Polen of the Vacaville Police Department, who wrote a popular Facebook post about the story, tells CNBC Make It, "We've seen lottery schemes in the past, but nothing of this magnitude."
On Dec. 20, the lottery winner, whom we'll call LW since he has asked local authorities not to reveal his identity, went into a Lucky Supermarket and purchased a $30 scratch-off lottery ticket that he believed to be worth $10,000. LW went home and told his two roommates the good news.
But the next morning, when he took a trip to the Sacramento district office of the California State Lottery to collect his prize, lottery officials turned LW away, saying there was a problem with his ticket.
Later that week, Polen says, LW's 35-year-old roommate Adul Saosongyang went to the lottery office himself with the winning ticket in hand. That kicked off an investigation to confirm that Saosongyang was the actual winner, which is protocol when large prizes are at stake.
When the lottery investigators went to Lucky's to obtain video footage of the purchase, they were told the ticket may have been stolen. That's when they connected with the police.
The investigation determined that Saosongyang allegedly purchased a second scratch-off ticket himself and swapped it with LW's when LW was sleeping.
LW had gone to the police as well because he suspected that one of his roommates was trying to swindle him. In addition to discovering that he may well have been correct, he found out that there was a lot more than $10,000 on the line. LW had misread the ticket: The scratch-off was actually worth $10 million.
Saosongyang was arrested on Monday on a grand theft charge. If he's found guilty, he can expect a sentence of up to one year in county jail or up to three years in state prison, depending on whether his case is classified as a misdemeanor or a felony, The Washington Post reports.
Lottery investigators are now working to confirm that LW is the true winner. Polen says he's optimistic that LW will get the money. If he does, his identity will be revealed, as is the policy in California.
"There are so many safety precautions that are built into the purchasing and the claiming of our tickets," Cathy Johnston, a spokesperson for the California State Lottery, tells CNBC Make It.
"The official winner will get their prize, that's the bottom line," she adds.
If you're going to buy scratch-off tickets, she offers three recommendations to ensure that you end up collecting your winnings: sign the back of your ticket, keep it in a safe place and turn it in to officials as soon as possible.
Oh, and be careful who you tell about your good fortune.
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