Something of a philosophical conundrum is this. You are walking along the road and stop to pick up a discarded lottery ticket. You take the time to check the winning lottery 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 winning lottery 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 winning lottery ticket is unsigned.

[The UK National Lottery operator Camelot requires 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 winning lottery 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 lottery 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 winning lottery ticket paid by credit or debit card then this becomes more of a problem. Each ticket contains a unique code that identifies the terminal at which it was purchased (see below: Term. 44427901) as well as the date. If the person that lost the winning lottery 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.

winning lottery ticket

That said, if the winning lottery ticket was bought in cash then any claim by a 3rd party would be pretty 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 lottery 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 the winning lottery numbers 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 a £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 winning lottery numbers go.

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 would need to supply at the very least the following information.

  • 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 the winning lottery 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 gives 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 concerns 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 to happen to you what would you do? Would you try to find the owner or keep the winning lottery 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 national lottery draw. Hmm, decisions!

Let me know what you would do in the comments section below. Oh, and in the 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!

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