Phony Powerball tickets flood social media in wake of $1.5-billion jackpot

A professional skateboarder showed his “winning” ticket for the $1.5-billion Powerball jackpot on Instagram. Another man held an impromptu press conference in the parking lot of the Chino Hills 7-Eleven where the ticket was sold, claiming to be the winner.

Then there was the poor nurse in Pomona, whose son text-messaged her a photo of her “winning” ticket, which led to a flood of media at her home and her work Thursday afternoon.

But in the end, all were hoaxes. In California, lottery officials still don’t know who the local winner is.

“I never would’ve thought I’d spend half my day [Thursday] trying to shoot down all these crazy stories about how they won,” said Alex Traverso, a California State Lottery spokesman.

Thanks to photo editing software and the biggest jackpot in U.S. lottery history, claims of people winning the lottery on social media soared this week, and even managed to trick some in the media.

“People can put together some pretty elaborate things. Sometimes it looks like a normal ticket,” Traverso said. “But the red flag right off the bat -- you don’t share that [you won] with anyone. If you’re serious that you’ve won ... $528 million is not an amount of money to be trifled with.”

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The most successful hoax so far occurred Thursday, when a spokeswoman for a network of California healthcare facilities began shopping a story to local media that one of the networks’ employees was the winner -- and possibly thanks to the company’s generous chief executive buying thousands of tickets for his employees and patients.

But in the end, the spokeswoman, the chief executive, the nurse’s boss, her coworkers and even the nurse herself, had all fallen for a prank -- her son had sent her a Photoshopped picture of her ticket that appeared to have the winning numbers.

The son eventually confessed it was a joke, but by then it was too late. The nurse’s family and the company spent the rest of Thursday trying to quell the rumors.

“A lot of what we’re seeing is someone having their moment in the sun,” Traverso said. “But it hasn’t risen to this level before because everyone right now is trying to figure out who this winner is. The magnifying glass isn’t usually there when it’s a smaller amount.”

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Three tickets matched Wednesday's winning Powerball numbers -- one each in Florida and Tennessee and one out of the Chino Hills 7-Eleven. Each ticket is worth about $528 million.

Lottery officials aren’t investigating any claims of winners who go online, Traverso said.

“That’s the weird thing about it. We’ve had large jackpot winners for hundreds of millions of dollars. They don’t put their picture on social media. They don’t tell everyone they’ve won. People are more cautious than that,” he said.

Traverso said the fastest way lottery officials have to spot fakes on social media is the number sequence at the bottom of the ticket, just above the barcode. That identifies the store where the ticket was sold, among other things.

“I’m really surprised how things are working out,” Traverso said. “It just makes me want the rightful winner to come forward sooner rather than later.”

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna on Twitter.


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