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You Find A Winning Lottery Ticket In The Street. What Do You Do?

Something of a philosophical conundrum this. You are walking along the road and stop to pick up a discarded lottery ticket. You take the time to check the numbers (on your mobile app presumably) and discover it is a £1,000,000 winning lottery ticket. What do you do?

Just How Honest Are You?

Just how honest are you? Does this situation even have anything to do with honesty? All lottery operators will have some form of verification process before handing over any winnings. In the USA for example, most (state) operators require that the back of the ticket be signed by the claimant. They will not hand over any prize until the ticket has been signed. We are going to assume for the purposes of this post that this ticket is unsigned.

[The UK National Lottery operator Camelot require an official prize claim form to be filled in for any prize over £50,000.]

An unsigned ticket is less a question of honesty and more a question of trust. The actual purchaser of the ticket cannot be verified. However, suppose that you were not alone when you found the ticket or others become aware of its discovery. What is to stop anyone else from claiming that ticket? How could you trust this person? How would you verify their claim? This is very likely to be a spurious claim.

Should You Cash The Winning Ticket?

I doubt that few people would question anybody’s decision to claim the £1,000,000. Your claim has to be every bit as valid as anybody else’s. However, if the owner of the ticket paid by credit or debit card then this becomes more of a problem. Each ticket contains a unique code which identifies the terminal at which it was purchased (see below: Term. 44427901) as well as the date. If the person that lost the ticket has made a claim with the National Lottery operator (in this case Camelot in the UK) then the ticket can be traced. This would take some investigation but it could be done using the purchaser’s bank records and the long code number shown here at the top of the ticket. For a £1,000,000 prize, Camelot would certainly investigate this fully before allocating any money. This would have the added effect of leaving you open to a fraud charge.

That said, if the ticket was bought in cash then any claim by a 3rd party would be pretty to difficult to prove. As the cost of a lottery ticket is only £2 then it is extremely likely that it would have been bought in cash. But not certain!

Homeless Man Finds Winning Ticket

This scenario does actually have a precedent. A homeless man in the Channel Islands found a £200 winning lottery ticket in the street and promptly cashed it in.

Sounds like a nice story right?

Well, no. Unfortunately, it didn’t end well for this particular homeless man. The purchaser of the ticket, a local woman, had thoughtfully taken a photo of it on her mobile. On discovering her loss she reported it to the Police. The homeless man was eventually traced and charged with theft. He was ordered by the Courts to repay the £200 and pay £100 fine!

You may argue that it could have been morally right under these circumstances to simply give the money to the homeless man. Possibly. However, the woman did do everything right as far as safeguarding her investment goes.

Can you claim a prize without a ticket?

This is tricky. Attempting to claim a prize (especially one of over £50,000) is always going to be difficult without a legitimately purchased coupon. Under certain circumstances though it may be possible for the lottery operator to validate your claim. You wpuld need to supply at the very least the following information though.

  • Where and when (including the approximate time) you bought the ticket
  • The lottery game that you bought the ticket for
  • The date of the draw for which you bought the ticket
  • The date you discovered the win
  • How many entries you purchased and preferably the numbers
  • When and where you believe the ticket was lost or stolen

Once you have done all that you will need to contact your lottery operator at the address shown on the back of a ticket or the operator’s website.

Honesty Above and Beyond

Of course, there are many examples of unbelievable acts of honesty. One such incident involves a Boston taxi driver who returned an incredible $187,000 left in a backpack in the back of his cab.

After handing in the backpack together with the cash to the local Police the owner of the money was traced. When the Police suggested to the lucky owner that he give the taxi driver a suitable reward, he proffered just $100. The Cabbie declined the reward saying “I would get as much as that for just returning a wallet!.”

Another example also concerning a taxi driver, this time in Walsall in the West Midlands. Adrian Quinn from Hereford vacated a taxi without his bag containing £10,000 in cash because he was in a hurry. Fortunately for him honest taxi driver Mohammed Nisar, discovered the bag and held on to it till the somewhat distressed passenger came running back to the drop-off point.

Winning the award for ‘stupendous act of human kindness’ though has to go to the cleaner from the UK who discovered a brown paper envelope with £300,000 stuffed inside whilst cleaning one of London’s iconic red buses. She promptly handed the envelope and money over to the Metropolitan Police. It was not reported whether anyone has yet claimed the missing cash.

What Would You Do?

So, if this were happen to you what would you do? Would you try to find the owner or keep the winning ticket? Bear in mind that if the ticket was bought for cash the unclaimed prize would be classified as ‘unclaimed’ and almost certainly added to a future lottery draw. Hmm, decisions!

Let me know what you would do in the comments section below. Oh, and in future always sign the back of your lottery tickets and take a photo (preferably with you holding it) just in case. Better still, download a lottery app and play online!


  • TT Swindlehurst

    Apr 07 '20 at 5:48 pm

    You are absolutely correct. The law states that if a person finds any item of property they should make every effort to return it to the owner. However, the phrase ‘every effort’ is extremely loose. In the case of a lottery ticket if you were to hand it in to the Police they will generally keep hold of it for 28 days before disposing of it. Therefore if you wished to make a claim you would have 28 days to do it. The problem with this is that unclaimed lottery tickets can still be claimed up to 180 days after the draw. If for example the owner took a photo of the ticket and retained the details and made a claim within 28 days then the ticket may be invalid. If you were to make a claim for the money after 28 days and the real owner then subsequently claimed as well the fact that the Police now have a record of the ticket may not go in your favour.

  • fndrskprs

    Mar 01 '20 at 8:34 pm

    If I found a winning ticket, then made a declaration that it was found/handed it in to the police, & informed the Lottery(?), waited the required period for any legitimate claim to step forward, after anyone failing to do so, then legally I believe I am allowed to claim the prize. The reasoning for this is two-fold, 1/ Tickets are often bought as gifts, etc for friends/family, etc, or thrown away in error, this then means that the original owner has relinquished their claim to it. 2/ Found property can be notified/handed in to the police, & after waiting for the required period can then be claimed by the finder, who then becomes the owner(I have done this upon finding a number of items over the years including bikes, jewellery, etc). As long as you’ve made a genuine legitimate(legal) effort, etc, there should be no legal reason for you to be either prosecuted, or denied the winnings/prize(not including escape clauses in lottery rules, or countries with garbage legal rulings).

Hit me with your best shot!

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