Whoever is holding the single winning ticket for the $521 Mega Millions jackpot is about to discover the tricky part of winning big: remaining anonymous.
The ticket for Friday night’s drawing was purchased in New Jersey, a state that does not allow lottery winners to claim their prize anonomously.
While the winner could claim the prize via a trust, New Jersey lottery officials can release the person’s name and home town due to state laws, said Jason Kurland, an attorney with Certilman Balin Adler & Hyman, a law firm in East Meadow, New York.
Only a handful of states let winners remain anonymous when they collect their prize. Yet experts say it’s the most important step to take to protect your sudden wealth.
Whether the winner can shield their identity or not, they should assemble a team of professionals who are experienced in helping lottery winners. That includes an attorney — this should be the first call — an accountant and a financial advisor. These experts should be chosen carefully.
Here are some tips for whoever is holding that winning ticket to maintain their privacy as much as possible.
Your first urge might be to share your exciting news with, well, the world. However, the fewer people who know, the better — even if you are able to claim your prize anonymously.
“Obviously it may be impossible to keep it from immediate family, but news like this travels quickly,” said Kurland, who specializes in helping lottery winners.
Past winners have discovered the hard way that long-lost friends and relatives can come out of the woodwork looking for a piece of the prize. And it can happen even if you claim your money anonymously.
“Try to keep the circle of people who know as small as possible,” Kurland said.
If you won’t be able to remain anonymous when you collect your winnings, shut down your social media accounts in advance, Kurland said.
“The media will try to find as many pictures of a winner as possible, and social media is the first place to look,” Kurland said. “You also want to make sure there’s as little personal information out there like your phone number or address.”
While any determined snooper or scammer could probably track down that information, you don’t want to make it easy for them.
Kurland said he advises big-jackpot winners to skip out the day they claim their prize.
“Just being out of town for a few days can help,” Kurland said. “In this 24-hour news cycle, the interest in a winner will hopefully disappear after a few days. If you can avoid being around for a week, you might be able to escape the initial exposure.”
Even in states that let you collect your winnings anonymously, lottery officials might reveal the town where you live.
“Everyone there will be looking around to see who is spending more, who quit their job, who is taking big vacations,” Kurland said. “Winners should enjoy their new-found wealth, but if anonymity is a main concern, it can be a difficult balance to strike.”