With many large lottery jackpots in the news lately, have you given thought to your own personal safety once you purchase a ticket? Can you trust your lottery agent?
My first novel Lotto Trouble (published in 2003 and pictured above) was about a clerk working in a New Jersey gas station who sold a $20 Million winning lottery ticket. A strange set of circumstances allowed the lottery agent to find and hunt down the customer who had purchased it. Many people’s lives are impacted and some even die as a result of the lottery agent’s greed.
Should a customer who buys a lottery ticket trust the person who sold it? Should we all be looking over our shoulders fearing a lottery agent might attempt to pull our ticket right out from under us? Might a store’s surveillance camera capture your likeness, eliminate your anonymity and make you a potential target? At best you might think I’m being cautious, at worst totally paranoid. Could it be what I’m describing can only happen in a book or movie? Might an unscrupulous clerk actually stalk a customer? It was only a matter of time before a scene laid out in the imaginative world of the novelist played itself out in the real world.
The clerk who steals the winning lottery ticket in my novel was named Pankaj Kamath. He was in his senior year at Rutgers University in New Jersey, majoring in engineering. But life has a way of imitating art. Six years after Lotto Trouble made its debut an unbelievable coincidence occurred in the town of Grand Prairie, Texas. A college student by the name of Pankaj Joshi working in a convenience store, stole a one million dollar ticket from a customer with the unusual repeating name of Willis Willis. Pankaj fled to Nepal with the prize money. This story was heavily covered in the news media in October 2009. My book along with the similarities found in the Pankaj Joshi case, was the subject of a column by Ken Herman of the Austin American Statesman. Herman suggested that the odds of two students with the name (Pankaj) perpetuating such a rare crime might be higher than actually winning the lottery.
In Syracuse, New York in 2006, (three years after my book’s publication) a convenience store owner’s son named Andy Ashkar with help from his brother stole a $5 million scratch-off ticket from Robert Miles. Miles was scammed when he was told that his winning ticket was only worth $5,000. Claiming Miles had to pay a $1,000 cashing fee, Ashkar only paid him $4,000. When the scheming Ashkar attempted to cash the winning ticket five years later, he was charged and sentenced to a term of 8 & 1/3 to 25 years for possession of the stolen ticket. Robert Miles is still trying to collect from New York State Lottery. Without his winnings, Miles was forced to file for bankruptcy. Ashkar’s father, who owned the store, was banned from ever selling another lottery ticket.
In August of 2013, Charles Alan Jones an employee at the H E B Grocery Chain was arrested in Woodway, Texas for stealing $139,000 of lottery tickets and fraudulently claiming $39,000 of winning tickets.
The problem of thievery is not just reserved for the agents who sell the tickets we buy. An Arkansas State Lottery official stole scratch-off tickets, cashing them in for $478,073 between November 2009 and October 2012. Disgruntled ticket buyers have sued the state agency claiming they were victims of fraud. A large pool of winning tickets that should have been sold were no longer available for the general population to purchase, limiting the stated odds.
Every day in the United States, lottery players are buying tickets from lottery sellers. My novel serves as a precautionary warning that a lottery winner’s potential fortune might be in the cross-hairs of an unscrupulous clerk on the other side of the counter. There have been other instances of clerks tampering with scratch-off tickets. But when a lottery seller victimizes and stalks a jackpot’s winner, we all need to take pause. Print and sign your name on the back of a ticket as soon as you buy it. Be careful my friends.
P.S. Have you ever worried that the person who sold you a lottery ticket might be sizing you up for a robbery? Do you think that consumers are adequately protected once they purchase a ticket? Please comment. [mc4wp-form]