Dozens of dead people in New Jersey technically won the lottery.
State auditors recently found that 680 lottery winners provided invalid identification when reporting their prizes to state officials. Of that bunch, 46 winners used the Social Security numbers of dead people.
Under state law, gamblers who win prizes of $600 or more are required to report their winnings to the state’s Department of Treasury.
But the audit discovered that lottery officials were cross-checking only claims exceeding $250,000.
When auditors combed through the records, they found almost $1 million in prize winnings over the course of a year could have been paid toward debts or other outstanding obligations.
New Jersey Auditor Steve Eells said the ID discrepancies do not necessarily point to criminal activity.
“It could be as simple as someone putting a ‘1’ for the last digit of their Social Security number, and it should’ve been a ‘2,’ maybe they wrote it wrong,” he said. “Did they do it intentionally? Or was it just an error?”
The answers to those questions are now being investigated. If identity fraud turns up, Eells said, state prosecutors will likely file charges.
Eells said the reporting problems could have significant consequences for those who are owed money.
“If you are talking about an individual who is delinquent on child support, I’m assuming, based on a court order, that there’s a family waiting for that support,” he said.
The state could also have overpaid individuals for public assistance by not knowing about lottery winnings.
In response, the lottery has said New Jersey received 48,000 lottery claims over the budget year the auditors looked into, and that the audit’s questionable claims represent just a tiny sliver of that.