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Lottery winners: beware the phone

Aug 9, 2006, 12:42 pm

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After the Big Win

For lottery winners flush with newfound wealth, the Powerball windfall can be a devil in angel's clothing.

It will mean a new sense of financial security for the 100 production and shipping employees at Sargento Foods in Plymouth claiming the $208.6 million Jackpot Saturday. But it can also mean the onset of worries, as the phones begin ringing off the hook from those looking for donations or handouts.

Many of these callers will be known by the winners or will be legitimate organizations, yet others will be strangers or scammers trying to conjure a plan to get a piece of the winner's nearly $1 million - the amount expected to be doled out to each person after taxes.

"We used to just have to worry about relatives and friends coming up to you and talking you out of your millions. Now you have millions of people trying to separate you from your money," said Glen Lloyd, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection spokesman. "There are people who are trying to figure out how to bamboozle that little Wisconsin town."

The winners each pitched in $1 for tickets, including the winning ticket, purchased at Ma & Pa's Grocery Express, 506 S. Main St.

Once the winner's names become public, scammers from around the country and world could have the ammo they need to defraud area lottery winners, Lloyd said.

"These people are feeling generous and may feel vulnerable," he said.

For example, scammers may call to congratulate the lottery winner and then suggest they jointly donate money to a charity. The scammer would offer to send a check for a significant amount of money to the winner.

While the winner may be waiting for the check to clear the bank, the scammer would ask the lottery winner to write a check or wire half of the money to a charity, which would turn out to be a made-up organization. Later, the winner would learn that the original check sent by the scammer hadn't cleared, but it would be too late, since the scammer would have the winner's money, Lloyd said.

"There are smart people out there that are trying to relieve them of their winnings. They should know this," Lloyd warned.

Wisconsin is known as a victim state, he said. Scammers often originate from Nevada, California, Texas, Florida and Canada.
Jessica Iverson, Wisconsin Lottery spokesperson, said she hasn't heard of any lottery winners in Wisconsin being defrauded by scammers in the past.

She said that doesn't mean lottery winners' phones aren't ringing off the hooks; something that is likely for the recent winners of the $209 million jackpot, the largest in Wisconsin history.

"I don't think there is any way to completely prevent contacts after a big win like this," Iverson said.

She said a lot of winners choose to get unlisted phone numbers and many have questions about whether this quick and unfamiliar attention will affect the well being of their families.

"Most of these people do not have experience in the public eye," Iverson said.

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