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Mega Millions: 6 tips to avoid getting scammed in the office pool

March 21, 2012|By Rene Lynch
  • Mega Millions jackpot: What would you do with $290 million?
Mega Millions jackpot: What would you do with $290 million? (Los Angeles Times )

Mega Millions' $290-million jackpot is up for grabs, and office workers across the country are no doubt pooling resources to buy a bunch of tickets. But how do you keep from getting swindled?

It happens, you know. Just last week, a New Jersey jury found that construction worker Americo Lopes tried to scam his co-workers out of their share of a $38.5-million jackpot by slinking off with the winning ticket purchased as part of an office pool.

You could avoid a similar fate by purchasing your own Mega Millions lottery ticket before Friday's drawing. But do you really want to be the only guy or gal standing on the sidelines when your co-workers win the jackpot? Didn't think so.

So here are six tips to avoid getting ripped off in the lottery pool, courtesy of the New Jersey State Lottery and its executive director, Carole Hedinger:

Designate a leader: Ideally, this person is not Americo Lopes. Instead, it should be someone who is trustworthy, well-organized, has the patience of Job and the ability to rule with an iron fist. This person will be in charge of collecting the money, buying the tickets and keeping the games running smoothly and fairly. In order to avoid any conflicts, the leader must also promise not to buy any personal lottery tickets apart from the pool -- or else let everyone know about any such purchases upfront, before the drawing.

Know the rules: Take the time upfront to decide how the pool will be run, and then put it in writing and distribute copies to everyone. This doesn't have to be overly complicated. Some basics to consider: What's the deadline for collecting cash? Who will hold the tickets? Will play be limited to certain people? What if Bill in accounting is out sick, and has Sara in sales cover for him when the money is being collected? Will they each receive their own share? Or will they have to split a single share? Some of these questions might seem nit-picky, but they could help fend off office drama, hard feelings and lawsuits if the pool strikes it rich.

Know when to break the rules: "If a person is not in the office on the day the lottery ticket money is collected, will that person be excluded from the potential win or will they be considered 'in' because they typically play?" Hedinger said. Anticipating these scenarios in advance -- and how to respond to them -- limits the drama.

Get copies of your tickets: The person in charge should make copies of all lottery tickets purchased with pool money prior to the drawing. Just line up the tickets face down on the copy machine and hit print. And then do the same with the backs of the tickets, which contain the serial numbers. Finally, make copies for everyone in the pool. Yes, this is annoying. But it's essential to avoiding controversy.

Know whom you're playing with: Get the names and phone numbers of everyone involved in the pool, the New Jersey State Lottery suggests. "In particular, you should get this information for the individuals who are in charge of purchasing the tickets and the person who will hold the tickets."

Know where and when your tickets are being purchased: Get this info before the drawing. "Find out the name and address of the retailer that the ticket buyer plans to visit as well as the approximate time of purchase," the New Jersey state lottery suggests.

It's true that many of these suggestions may seem overly time-consuming. But they sure beat shelling out for attorney's fees.

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