Customers cheated out of winning lotto tickets

March 5, 2009 12:26:45 PM PST
The California Lottery Security Division on Tuesday arrested nine lottery ticket vendors in Santa Clara County on charges of cheating confused lottery customers out of winning tickets.

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The nine individuals, all retailers or store clerks, were arrested for grand theft of winning lottery tickets, according to California Lottery spokesman Alex Traverso.

According to Traverso, undercover visits in February found that these lottery retailers were taking back winning tickets to cash in themselves. Investigators posed as customers who showed decoy winning tickets to the clerks and expressed confusion about whether they had won any money. The retailers who were arrested kept the tickets, telling customers they were not winners. The retailer then tried to collect the money, Traverso said.

"The people who get preyed on are the ones who don't understand if they won or not," he said.

Traverso urged lottery patrons to sign the back of any ticket they think might be a winner. That way nobody else can collect its winnings.

"That's the best way to empower yourself in that situation," he said.

Traverso also stressed the importance of understanding how the lottery is played before buying a ticket.

During yesterday's sting, Santa Clara County sheriff's officers, lottery investigators and officers from the state department of alcoholic beverage control visited retail stores, confirmed the suspect was present, and made the arrest.

If the arrestee was the store's owner, their contract to sell lottery tickets was terminated immediately, Traverso said. Lottery vendors were also present to remove any machines and equipment from the premises. One suspect owned seven different retail stores, which had to be cleaned out, according to Traverso. A total of 10 stores no longer sell tickets.

An arrest warrant has been issued for one additional suspect. She is a relative of one of the arrestees who also worked in the store, Traverso said.

Some stings are the result of anonymous tips, Traverso said, but Tuesday's arrests were the result of routine "quality control" checks conducted throughout the state.

This scheme surfaces in only a small number of the lottery's 20,000 authorized retailers, Traverso said. Previous stings produced 13 arrests in Fresno County in January and eight in Chico, Redding and Yuba City locations in February.

"I think yesterday's arrests are it for a while," he said.

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