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Mega Millions and Powerball jackpots surge: Here’s how to stay anonymous if you win

Somebody could be starting off the new year with a big pile of cash.

The Mega Millions jackpot is growing once again — it’s now up to an estimated $750 million for Friday night’s drawing.

The Powerball jackpot is skyrocketing, too. It’s at $640 million, meaning that $1.39 billion is up for grabs over the next few days.

Mega Millions jackpot surges to record $868 million

While the odds of winning are slim — 1 in 303 million for Mega Millions and 1 in 292 million for the Powerball drawing on Saturday night — you won’t want to take any chances should you hit it big.

As many previous winners have learned the hard way, money doesn’t buy happiness. In fact, winning the jackpot can create even more problems as people come out of the woodwork seeking a piece of the pie.

That means safeguarding yourself and your windfall should be a top priority if you win the prize. Along with hiring a stellar financial and legal team, and donating to charity, the No. 1 suggestion among experts we talked to is staying anonymous.

And though most states require the winner to come forward, there are still ways you can minimize your exposure to the public. We talked to several professionals — including lawyers and one of the world’s top blackjack players — to get their best tips.

1. Buy your ticket in a state that doesn’t require you to come forward.

“The best thing a person can do is buy a ticket in one of the six states that don’t require you to come forward,” Marty King, partner with law firm Gorman & Williams in Maryland, told TODAY. “That means you won’t have to go to the press conference with the big oversized check and show your face.” Those states are Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio and South Carolina. If you live near one of these states, King recommends crossing the border to buy your ticket because the rules apply depending on where you buy it, not where you live.

Man claims $425M lotto prize, shields face with check

2. Don’t tell anyone.

This might be one of the hardest things to do, but it’s super important. “The single biggest thing necessary to stay anonymous would be to tell no one — and I mean no one — about the win,” Josh King, general counsel and consumer protection advocate at online legal services site Avvo, told TODAY. He also recommends that the winner “not meaningfully change anything” about his or her life. “These two things alone will be really, really hard,” he said, “but they’re necessary in order to have any chance at maintaining anonymity.” This will minimize the chances that family members and friends will come after you when they’ve found out you won.

3. Delete social media accounts (and change your phone number and address, too).

We’re in the age where everything is online. So before you claim your prize, make sure you erase as much of your digital footprint as possible. “I would delete every social media account you have and consider changing as much as you can,” said Marty King. “Change your phone number and address if you can, too. If you’re going to be public, you want to make it as hard as possible for people to find you.”

4. Wear a disguise.

Think of old spy movies when it comes to how you’ll dress when you claim your prize — even if you’re forced to make a public appearance and talk to the press. “Alter your appearance and dress differently than you usually dress,” said Rick “Night Train” Blaine, author of “Blackjack Blueprint: How to Play Like a Pro . Part Time” and the titleholder of the “World’s Best Blackjack Player” from the 2015 Blackjack Ball tournament. Blaine — a pseudonym from Humphrey Bogart’s character in the classic film “Casablanca” — uses several aliases and changes his appearance so casinos can’t identify him (see him in disguise here). So if you’re a guy, grow out your beard or shave if you have a beard. Wear a hat, sunglasses, baggy clothes or whatever it takes to look different so no one can identify you.

Or depending on your state’s rules, take inspiration from the sole winner of a $425 million Powerball prize back in 2014, who chose to cover his face with his giant check. Additionally, if your state allows it, ask to use your first initial instead of your full name on the promotional check.

5. Disconnect all phones.

“Have your friend get you a prepaid phone, purchased with cash, which you can register with any area code,” said Blaine. “For example, you buy the phone in New York, you can register it as coming from Nebraska. All you need is to input a Nebraska zip code and you’ll be assigned a corresponding area code.”

6. Get out of town.

If you really want to ensure you’ll remain out of the spotlight and prevent people from hounding you for money, then get out of town or even the country. “It gives you a chance to settle yourself and lets the publicity die down,” Erica Sandberg, personal finance expert and author of “Expecting Money: the Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families,” told us.

7. Set up an LLC or trust.

While it might be impossible to use an LLC to claim the actual prize, once you move to a new place you can buy your home and all of your assets under one to prevent people from tracking you. “Set up an LLC or trust in order to build anonymity,” said Josh King. “The structure you need here will be determined by the law of the state the winner resides in. You’ll need to work with a very experienced, very discreet attorney to do this in a way that it can’t be figured out by a determined investigator.” Marty King agrees, saying, “You’re probably going to buy a new home anyway, so don’t buy it under your name. Using an LLC makes it harder for people to find your new address. Use trusts to hide the identity of any assets. You can hide your new existence.”

8. Don’t make any big purchases for a year.

It may be tempting to treat yourself to a number of shiny new toys, but those purchases also draw attention to the fact that you have money to spend. It’s best to maintain the appearance of your normal life, while quietly working with your money management team. “Have a trusted friend rent a modest place in a remote location under his/her name,” said Blaine. “A place where there are no neighbors.”

This article, originally published in January 2016, has been updated to reflect the latest lottery news.

The Mega Millions jackpot is $750 million while Powerball hit $640 for combined winnings of $1.39 billion. While the odds of winning are slim, don't take any chances if you hit it big.

She Won The $560 Million Powerball — And Immediately Regretted This

(Photo by Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

When this New Hampshire woman won the $560 million Powerball jackpot in January, she did what most people would do. She signed the back of her ticket.

But it almost cost her more than she bargained for.

Here’s what you need to know and what you should do if you’re fortunate enough to follow in her footsteps and win the lottery.

Step #1: Remain anonymous

If you win the lottery, your best bet is to remain anonymous.

With your newfound fortune, the last thing you want is to draw attention to your newfound fortune. Jane Doe (the Powerball winner whose name has not been disclosed) realized after she signed her winning lottery ticket that she wished to remain anonymous.

Typically, the choice to remain anonymous after you win the lottery may not be yours.

The rules regarding anonymity vary by state, with some states requiring all lottery winners to disclose their identity. Why?

Some lottery officials say they want transparency and to ensure that the winner is not related to a lottery official. Therefore, lottery commissions strive for transparency, and typically want winners to disclose their name, city and prize amount.

Remaining anonymous when you win the lottery can only be done in six U.S. states: Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio and South Carolina. The remaining states where Powerball is sold, including Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, require that winners publicly disclose their identity.

In New Hampshire, a lottery winner’s name, town and prize amount are publicly disclosed as part of the state’s “Right To Know” law.

However, Doe asked a state judge to grant her anonymity even though she signed her name on the back of the ticket and lives in a state that does not permit anonymity for lottery winners.

On Monday, Judge Charles Temple granted her request – to the objection of New Hampshire lottery officials who argued that revealing her identity increases transparency and trust in the lottery system in accordance with state rules. The judge ruled that revealing her name would constitute an invasion of privacy since lottery winners can face – according to Temple’s order – “repeated solicitation, harassment, and even violence.” The judge ruled, however, the winner had to reveal her town (Merrimack).

Step #2: Sign the winning lottery ticket

So, if you win the lottery and live in a state that does not guarantee anonymity, should you still sign the back of the ticket?

It may sound outdated, but you should always sign the back of a winning lottery ticket.

A lottery ticket is considered a bearer instrument, which means that whoever signs the ticket can claim the lottery winnings.

Therefore, if you lose an unsigned winning ticket, the person who find it legally can claim the prize.

The question then is what name do you sign on the back of the ticket – particularly if you want to remain anonymous.

You can accept a lottery prize through legal structures such as a blind trust that can protect your identity. In this case, the winner created the Good Karma Family 2018 Nominee Trust. Her lawyer, William Shaheen, accepted the lump sum prize of $352 million (approximately $264 million after taxes) on her behalf.

What’s the first thing she did with her new fortune? She donated almost $250,000 to charity – and has plans to donate up to $50 million. Way to make lemonade.

Zack Friedman is the bestselling author of the blockbuster book, THE LEMONADE LIFE. Apple named The Lemonade Life one of “Fall’s Biggest Audiobooks” and a “Must-Listen.”

If you win the lottery, make sure to do this one thing. ]]>