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Lotto regret: Pitfalls of Powerball, lottery winners serve as cautionary tales as jackpots swell

USA TODAY

As the jackpots grow for the Powerball and Mega Millions lottery games, so to do people's hopes that maybe 鈥 just maybe! 鈥 they'll be the lucky one to win even just some of the hundreds of millions of dollars at stake.

After all, what could be better than winning the lottery? The overnight rags-to-riches dream is understandably a fantasy of many, no matter how much of a statistical longshot it may be.

And of course, the news cycle has no shortage of stories about people whose lives are irrevocably changed for the good when they encounter a massive and unexpected windfall of cash 鈥 yes, even here at USA TODAY.

"The lottery, especially when it's really big like this, you're walking around town and people are talking about it," said , a Florida lawyer who . "There's a lot of hope that people have 鈥 people are dreaming right now all over the country but unfortunately, there's only one winner, if there is a winner."

A person walks past a news stand after purchasing lottery tickets Wednesday in New York City.

But if you're one of those people lucky to win either of the jackpots 鈥 an estimated $1 billion for the Powerball as of Wednesday, and $720 million for the Mega Millions 鈥 you might find your past financial problems replaced with new ones.

Panouses has seen it all in his years of representing upwards of 40 people across the U.S. who won $1 million or more in state lotteries.

If they don't fritter it all away on bad investments and extravagant purchases, Panouses said those who win that kind of money may find themselves the targets of scammers, harassment from friends or even complete strangers, and 鈥 in extreme cases 鈥 those willing to kill.

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<国产自拍 class=gnt_ar_b_国产自拍>The secret to enjoying your lottery winnings? Don't let anyone know about it

It's why when he's hired to represent someone who just won big, he preaches one thing above all else: Remain anonymous when possible. The attorney even joked that if any of his clients spoke on-the-record to USA TODAY, he may have to drop them.

"The people who run into problems, almost every single one of them have issues because their identity has been outed so people know who they are and people know they've won," Panouses said.

Take one man in India who recently made international news after winning 250 million rupees (about $3 million) in a state government lottery. Multiple news outlets, , reported that the man became inundated with strangers requesting his financial help, leading him to post a video expressing his regret at having won at all.

Panouses said his clients have filled him in on situations in which people from across the country have mailed them begging for help, with some even threatening to kill themselves or others if financial support is not forthcoming.

"There's people out there who once they get their names will come up with some very sad stories," he said.

Panouses tells his clients to refrain from telling almost anyone about their winnings 鈥 even their own siblings, if it's necessary. Some of those he's represented effectively live a double life, keeping their affluence private from many who they know so as to avoid tipping them off about their newfound wealth.

"They need to in order to keep their privacy," he said.

<国产自拍 class=gnt_ar_b_国产自拍>Longterm financial planning is key to avoid burning through winnings

For lottery winners who make their money last, it's far more complicated than simply turning in their ticket and claiming their winnings.

Panouses advises winners to wait at least a week to make the claim, giving them time to plan what they'll do before the money hits their bank account. After that, he suggests they wait at least six months to make any big-ticket purchases 鈥 and then never spend more than a small chunk of their winnings (usually 3-4%) per year.

"If you start spending money right away, you'll get into a habit of buying, buying, buying, and that's when you lose control real quick," he said.

It's not without precedent that what seems like an endless supply of cash is quickly wiped out.

Rather than alleviate the financial troubles of the people who won, winning the lottery only postponed bankruptcy for many rather than prevent it.

Nearly one-third of lottery winners eventually go bankrupt within three to five years, which is more likely than the average American, the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards.

In Florida, a lottery winner had to file for bankruptcy in 2016 after being forced to give $291,000 of the $1 million lottery jackpot to her former boyfriend who sued her for failing to share, . Lynn Anne Poirier first claimed her prize in 2007, but her then-boyfriend sued months later based on a verbal agreement the two apparently had that if either of them ever won the lottery, the winnings would be split equally.

<国产自拍 class=gnt_ar_b_国产自拍>Watch out for scammers

It's become increasingly common that those who win the lottery have their identities appropriated by those who convince their targets of their supposed magnanimous intentions.

That's what happened to lottery winner Lerynne West of Iowa last year, when she learned that scammers impersonating her were offering to give away her winnings to a lucky few, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Of course, those who fell for the scam were asked to turn over their personal information.

West, who won $343.9 million in 2018, warned people on Facebook about the scam in March 2022. In the post, West said that though she's set up a charitable foundation to give away some of her winnings, she'd never randomly select people to text or email.

<国产自拍 class=gnt_ar_b_国产自拍>Lottery winnings represent the kind of money people would kill for

In one of the more extreme examples, a woman was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 2012 for killing a Lakeland, Florida man who had won millions in the lottery. Dorice 鈥淒ee Dee鈥 Moore was found guilty of the murder of Abraham Shakespeare, who she befriended in 2008, two years after he won a $17 million payment from the Florida Lottery.

Prosecutors said Moore was able to gain control of Shakespeare鈥檚 remaining money and shot and killed him after he became suspicious. Investigators found Shakespeare鈥檚 body in January 2010, buried behind a Plant City home that Moore owned.

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But according to past reporting, Shakespeare had already given away or loaned most of his winnings by the time he met Moore.

It's sad, Panouses said, that many who play the lottery often are living in poverty and are unaccustomed to managing such wealth. Those who win can themselves end up back in poverty if they're not careful, but Panouses can't help but think of the countless more who never do win 鈥 but who continue to try.

"Wealthy people don't play the lottery, these are everyday people who might have $10 left, and the question for them is, 'do I buy some food or do I buy five lottery tickets,'" Panouses said. "It's sad and it's bittersweet for me because I love getting the calls from people who win, but unfortunately I see too many people who probably shouldn't be spending their money on lottery tickets."

Eric Lagatta covers breaking and trending news for USA TODAY. Reach him at elagatta@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @EricLagatta.