What To Do After You've Lost Your Lottery Ticket

Losing a lottery ticket can feel like you’ve lost all your luck. But read on to learn about some options to try to recoup some of your losses.

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Adam Moelis
Sep 21, 2022
4 min read

If you just scratched off a winning lottery ticket or realized that you have every winning number in the newest Mega Millions game, you’ve truly defied the odds. There’s only one problem — where the heck did you put the ticket?

If you lost your lottery ticket despite winning it big, you might be out of luck. But there are some things you can try as a last-ditch effort, and there are also steps you can take to ensure that you don’t ever lose your ticket in the first place.

What Happens When You Lose a Lottery Ticket?

After winning the lottery, the toughest part is the period between winning and being able to cash your ticket. During this period, keeping your ticket safe is essential.

However, if your ticket gets lost or stolen, there might be some things that you can do. In some states, you can contact security and law enforcement toll-free as soon after the occurrence as possible. The sooner you report a lost or stolen ticket, the easier it will be for a staff member to assist you.

Other than that, there’s not much you can do in the United States. Lottery retailers and states are not liable for lost or stolen tickets. So as awful and upsetting as it might be, losing a ticket in any capacity might mean that there is just nothing you’re able to do.

In other countries, however, you can file an appeal for a lost or stolen ticket. Canada, for example, allows you to lodge an appeal no later than 30 days from the relevant draw. You’ll need to fill out a claim form and then prove that you own the ticket.

Many lotteries will ask you to identify when and where you purchased a ticket. You’ll also need to tell lottery officials which numbers you played, and it’s helpful to let officials know what other items you purchased with your ticket.

National lotteries keep a record of exactly when a winning ticket was bought. So if you can supply the necessary information, they might be able to pinpoint that you were indeed the owner of a winning ticket.

Appeals are not foolproof, but they’ve worked in the past. In 2012, Kathryn Jones became the first ever winner to be identified by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation’s claims investigation process. Jones had lost her ticket and forgotten about it. 

The games commission was able to identify her ticket through a thorough investigation, which led them to discover surveillance footage, credit card transactions, and more. Ultimately, it meant she was $50,000,000 richer thanks to their efforts.

What If the Ticket Is Damaged?

If you still have the winning ticket, but it was torn, dampened, or ruined in some other way, you can probably still claim it. As long as a portion of the barcode can still be read, you can probably still redeem your prize.

Sometimes, retailers may also be able to use numerical codes on the ticket to validate them in the event that the barcode is damaged.

With that said, it is your responsibility to keep your ticket safe. If it becomes damaged, there is no guarantee that you’ll be able to claim your prize.

How Can You Avoid Losing Your Lottery Ticket?

The best way to recoup a lost lottery ticket is by preventing it from getting lost in the first place. There are a few things you can do after winning to help secure your winnings.

Sign the Back of Your Ticket

The very first thing you should do when you win the lottery is sign the back of the ticket. This is one of the most important things to do in order to protect your ticket. 

Why? Becauto to claim a winning ticket, you need to show identification that matches the signature on the back.

While you’ll easily be able to do that by showing your driver’s license or passport, your signature wouldn’t be able to match anyone else’s. So, if someone else steals your ticket, it would be rendered useless because the signature on the back won’t match.

Not to mention, lottery claims commissions might be able to use the signature on the back to find the true owner of the ticket if it ever gets lost. 

Take Pictures of the Ticket

You should also take pictures of the front and back of the signed ticket to cement your legal standing if the ticket gets lost. You can use this evidence to help prove that you were the winner even without a physical ticket.

Again, this isn’t entirely foolproof, and a lottery claims commission would need to do further investigation into the matter. But these steps wouldn’t hurt.

Place Your Ticket in a Secure Location

Depending on the state, you can claim your winning prize between 90 days and a year. While you’ll obviously want to claim your prize as soon as possible, there will be a small interim between finding out you’ve won and claiming your prize.

You’ll want peace of mind knowing that your ticket is in a safe spot, so find a secure location to place it. We recommend a safe deposit box with a unique code that only you know. This way, no one would be able to access it even if they wanted to.

You can also use a safety deposit box at your bank. A benefit of this method is that, often, safety deposit boxes are insured. That way, if something happens to the ticket, you might still be able to recoup some of your losses.

Claim Your Prize in Person Rather Than Mail

When you win any amount over $599, you’ll need to file a claim form and receive your funds from the lottery headquarters in your state. You can do this in person, or you can do it over the mail.

When you win a giant jackpot, experts recommend that you take your ticket in person to the lottery headquarters. While the postal service is reliable most of the time, you don’t want to risk the ticket getting lost in the mail. Not to mention, it can take longer to receive your prizes if you go through the mail.

When you take your ticket to the lottery headquarters, we recommend keeping your ticket in a secured location for the entire ride there. Stick it in an envelope, or even bring your safety box with you in the car. Anything you can do to minimize the risk of losing your ticket is a step you should take.

Be Careful Who You Tell

When you win the lottery, you may be tempted to tell the entire world. However, this only puts your privacy at risk and makes you a target for criminals hoping to get a slice of the pie.

You should consider only telling the people closest to you until you’ve been able to hire a lawyer or financial advisor a little later on. Not only does money change people’s perspectives, but it can also put your safety at risk. If word gets out that you have a multi-million dollar lottery ticket in your possession, people might go to great lengths to try to steal it from you.

This also means that you shouldn’t post your winning ticket on Instagram or other social media. People can use these pictures against you to try to claim the winning ticket as their own. So your best bet is to just lay low for a while until you’ve claimed your prize.

Even then, you might want to consider remaining anonymous just to play it safe. States that allow anonymity include Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Texas, Ohio, and South Carolina.

What Happens If No One Claims a Winning Ticket?

If a winning ticket is lost, that naturally means that the grand prize doesn’t get paid out. But where does all of that remaining money go?

If a grand prize goes unclaimed, then the money must be returned to all lotteries in proportion to their sales for the draw run. Essentially, this means that states and retailers just get their money back, and the game goes on.

The states can decide what to do with this money based on their own jurisdictions. In most cases, these funds just go right back into their lottery games so that the grand prize can continue to rise over time. However, states might also decide to use this money to fund schools, public works, or even gambling addiction helplines.

This hasn’t happened often, but there are three instances on record where a Mega Millions grand prize went unclaimed within the redemption window. These instances were:

  • December 24, 2002: $68 million jackpot went unclaimed in New York.
  • April 25, 2003: $46 million jackpot went unclaimed in New York.
  • August 1, 2006: $31 million jackpot went unclaimed in New York.

It seems like the citizens of New York are having a little bit of trouble keeping track of their lottery tickets. Regardless, taking steps to ensure the safety of your lottery ticket from the get-go is imperative for avoiding heartbreak down the line.

What Should You Do With Non-Winning Lottery Tickets?

Just because you didn’t win the grand prize doesn’t mean you need to toss away your losing ticket. You might have options to enter a second chance drawing to win some money.

Many states allow you to redeem losing scratch-off tickets for a second chance drawing. All you need to do is go on your state lottery’s website and enter the code on the front or back of your qualifying ticket. You’ll then be entered into a drawing to win a secondary raffle prize.

And while scratch-off tickets are generally not recyclable, paper “draw” tickets generally are. So if you don’t win on a Mega Millions or a Powerball, you can recycle them to feel good about giving back to your planet.

In Conclusion

If you just won a big jackpot, we have faith that you’ll keep your ticket safe. Signing the back of your ticket and taking pictures of it are great ways to prevent people from being able to redeem it on your behalf. But if you do lose your ticket, you might be out of luck. Some states and countries may allow you to file an appeal, but even then, those are not entirely foolproof.

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