CHICAGO — Remember when everyone was talking about that $1.337 billion Mega Millions jackpot? Weeks later, two people have come forward to claim their prize — but kept their identities secret.
The Illinois Lottery said it couldn't share any information about the winners, who bought the winning ticket at a gas station in suburban Chicago. Some states allow lottery winners to stay anonymous; in Illinois, anyone who wins $250,000 or more can keep their identity under wraps.
Is this unusual?
Many lottery winners stay anonymous when given the option to avoid unwanted attention and requests for money.
We still don't know who won the largest Mega Millions prize in history, a $1.5 billion jackpot drawing in 2018, because the winner chose to remain anonymous. All that's known about that person was that they were a South Carolina resident who visited Greenville.
Winners don't need to claim their prize right away, so even lottery officials won't know a winner's identity for a while. The Mega Millions winner had a year to come forward, but Illinois lottery rules state they only had 60 days to pick whether to take the smaller cash lump sum -- which the vast majority of people choose to do.
In this case, the winner of the $1.337 billion Mega Millions jackpot only had a few more days before that deadline hit. According to the Illinois lottery, the prize for the July 29 drawing was claimed by two individuals who had agreed to split the prize if they won. The winners opted to take the lump sum payment of $780.5 million.
Should the winner come forward?
Winners have good reasons to keep their sudden windfall quiet if they can.
One expert who has worked with past lottery winners says the winners should avoid going to the lottery office altogether, instead sending an attorney or financial adviser to preserve their anonymity — if lottery officials allow.
“There are going to be people doing everything they can to figure out who the winner is,” said trusts and estates attorney Kim Kamin to the Associated Press. “There are going to be many eyes watching.”
Some past winners have been less than lucky, being hounded for money and becoming victims of scams.
One such winner is Manuel Franco of Wisconsin, who claimed a $768 million lottery jackpot in April 2019. The then-24-year-old reportedly went into hiding due to unwanted attention.
That wasn't the end of his lottery-related troubles. Using Franco's name in messages and phone calls, scammers told recipients they had been chosen to receive money. Instead, the BBB said they phished for personal information and tricked people out of thousands of dollars.
Despite the problems encountered by the winners, lottery officials prefer to publicly identify winners to build public trust in the games. Some past state lottery games have been embroiled in controversy and even fraud scandals that landed players in prison for years.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. It has been updated for clarity.