Friday June 20 2014 – Florida Lottery officials have launched a campaign this week which seeks to educate players on the importance of signing their lottery tickets. Named “Sign Your Ticket”, the campaign has been launched as part of an on-going effort to protect lottery players against potential fraud after it was discovered that nine of the top ten winners in scratch-off games were convenience store owners.
The purpose of the campaign is to remind all players to sign their tickets immediately, whether they are scratch-offs or lottery tickets, as this will prevent an unauthorised person claiming a prize due to the original purchaser of the ticket. To help get their message across, Florida Lottery have employed a variety of mediums to alert players to the need to sign their tickets, including messages on the official website, announcements on Facebook and Twitter and promotional material available from lottery retailers and district offices.
The lottery also encourages players to check their own tickets or, if they want to check them at a retailer, watch the monitor while the ticket is being checked and ask for a receipt. If there is a dispute over the ticket, players are advised to ask for the original ticket back and to contact the lottery directly on (850) 487-7787.
Florida Lottery officials have always instructed players to sign the back of their tickets but following an on-going investigation to determine whether any stores have carried out fraudulent activity, officials felt it necessary to reiterate the importance to players.
In an ongoing attempt to stamp out fraudulent claims by unscrupulous lottery retailers, Florida Lottery officials have investigated over 100 stores in the past six months alone and last month suspended ticket sales at 11 retailers after it was found that the stores accounted for a suspiciously high number of winners. Of these 11 stores, seven were linked to convenience store owner Chirag Parmar of Pinellas County who, along with his mother, had claimed 47 prizes of $1,000 or more over the past three years.
However, it isn’t just Florida Lottery officials who are dealing with lottery fraud as other states have also encountered the same issue. In November last year, a father and son from Long Island, New York, were charged with grand larceny after they scammed a customer out of a $1 million prize. Instead of advising the winner to contact lottery officials to claim his win, Nabil and Karim Jagbah told the man he had won $1,000 and handed him the cash while they kept the $1 million ticket. Luckily the customer suspected foul play and returned to the store the following day to question the owners. After being confronted by the customer, the Jagbah’s increased the alleged prize winnings to $10,000 and asked the customer not to involve the police. Thankfully this unusual request appears to have raised the ticket holder’s suspicions even further and he duly contacted the NYPD who arrested and charged the dishonest duo.
Unfortunately this is not the first time New York Lottery officials have dealt with lottery fraud as, back in 2006, Robert Miles was scammed out of a $5 million prize by two brothers whose father owned the Green Ale Market in Syracuse. The brothers, Andy and Nayel Ashkar, told Miles he had won just $5,000 on a scratch-off. Although Miles afterwards suspected that the prize could have been considerably more, at the time he was homeless and addicted to crack cocaine and didn’t think anyone would take his word over that of the Ashkar brothers.
As the period for claiming prizes on a scratch-offs is significantly different from a normal lottery ticket, the brothers held on to the ticket for six years before attempting to claim the prize on the day it was due to expire in March 2012.Â Suspicious of the delay in claiming the prize, as well as a number of other factors, officials believed that they may be dealing with a potentially fraudulent claim and launched a full investigation. Fortunately the saga ended happily for Miles who, having kicked his drug habit and found a full-time job, was united with his rightful winnings in August 2013. The ending was not so happy for Andy Ashkar who was found guilty of possession of stolen property and sentenced to the maximum term of between 8 1/3 and 25 years for criminal possession of stolen property.
Protection Against Lottery Fraud
In the UK, the National Lottery has launched an initiative to make players aware that they have won a prize by introducing an audible fanfare to their terminals. When UK retailers scan a ticket, the alert sounds and a receipt with the exact prize amount is produced. This simple system has gone a long way to deterring potentially dishonest retailers from advising players that their ticket hasn’t won a prize and then going on to claim the prize themselves.
While some state lotteries supply retailers with a similar system to that used in the UK, is it not yet something that has been implemented state-wide and so we would advise players to take the following steps to avoid missing out on a prize:
- Always check your tickets yourself where possible. Some states have self-scan devices in retailers which enable you to check your tickets in store. If your state doesn’t offer this, make sure you check your numbers using a lottery results website such as Lottery.net.
- Make sure you check your state lottery website for details of how to claim your prize. Larger prizes can only be claimed in person from lottery offices so make sure you understand how to claim your prize and don’t rely on a retailer for the information.
- If you can, buy your tickets online. When lottery tickets are bought online they are saved electronically and checked automatically which means you are automatically alerted by email or text if you win a prize.
Updated April 5th, 2016