IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Someone won the $1.35B Mega Millions jackpot. How to stay anonymous if you ever win

One lucky person just took home $1.35 billion in a historic Mega Millions drawing. While the odds of winning are slim, don't take any chances if you're the one to ever hit it big.
/ Source: TODAY

Somebody in Maine just became a billionaire.

The Mega Millions jackpot climbed to a near-record $1.35 billion for its Jan. 13 drawing after 26 consecutive games without a winner. An individual in Maine ended up taking home the massive prize.

That $1.35 billion is the second-highest payout in Mega Millions history. (The highest ever was in 2018 when it reached $1.537 billion.) It seems to be a year of record-breaking lottery payouts: Another lucky person took home a stunning $2.04 billion when the Powerball reached its highest jackpot ever in November.

While the odds of winning are slim — 1 in 303 million for Mega Millions — some people wouldn't want to take any chances should they hit it big.

As many previous winners have learned the hard way, money doesn't buy happiness. In fact, winning the jackpot can create even more problems as people come out of the woodwork seeking a piece of the pie.

That means safeguarding yourself and your windfall should be a top priority if you win the prize. Along with hiring a stellar financial and legal team, and donating to charity, the No. 1 suggestion among experts we talked to is staying anonymous.

And though most states require the winner to come forward, there are still ways you can minimize your exposure to the public. We talked to several professionals — including lawyers and one of the world's top blackjack players — to get their best tips.

1. Buy your ticket in a state that doesn't require you to come forward.

"The best thing a person can do is buy a ticket in one of the six states that don't require you to come forward," Marty King, partner with law firm Gorman & Williams in Maryland, told TODAY. "That means you won't have to go to the press conference with the big oversized check and show your face." Those states are Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio and South Carolina. If you live near one of these states, King recommends crossing the border to buy your ticket because the rules apply depending on where you buy it, not where you live.

2. Don't tell anyone.

This might be one of the hardest things to do, but it's super important. "The single biggest thing necessary to stay anonymous would be to tell no one — and I mean no one — about the win," Josh King, general counsel and consumer protection advocate at online legal services site Avvo, told TODAY. He also recommends that the winner "not meaningfully change anything" about his or her life. "These two things alone will be really, really hard," he said, "but they’re necessary in order to have any chance at maintaining anonymity." This will minimize the chances that family members and friends will come after you when they've found out you won.

3. Delete social media accounts (and change your phone number and address, too).

We're in the age where everything is online. So before you claim your prize, make sure you erase as much of your digital footprint as possible. "I would delete every social media account you have and consider changing as much as you can," said Marty King. "Change your phone number and address if you can, too. If you're going to be public, you want to make it as hard as possible for people to find you."

4. Wear a disguise.

Think of old spy movies when it comes to how you'll dress when you claim your prize — even if you're forced to make a public appearance and talk to the press. "Alter your appearance and dress differently than you usually dress," said Rick "Night Train" Blaine, author of "Blackjack Blueprint: How to Play Like a Pro ... Part Time" and the titleholder of the “World’s Best Blackjack Player” from the 2015 Blackjack Ball tournament. Blaine — a pseudonym from Humphrey Bogart's character in the classic film "Casablanca" — uses several aliases and changes his appearance so casinos can't identify him (see him in disguise here). So if you're a guy, grow out your beard or shave if you have a beard. Wear a hat, sunglasses, baggy clothes or whatever it takes to look different so no one can identify you.

Or depending on your state's rules, take inspiration from the sole winner of a $425 million Powerball prize back in 2014, who chose to cover his face with his giant check. Additionally, if your state allows it, ask to use your first initial instead of your full name on the promotional check.

5. Disconnect all phones.

"Have your friend get you a prepaid phone, purchased with cash, which you can register with any area code," said Blaine. "For example, you buy the phone in New York, you can register it as coming from Nebraska. All you need is to input a Nebraska zip code and you'll be assigned a corresponding area code."

6. Get out of town.

If you really want to ensure you'll remain out of the spotlight and prevent people from hounding you for money, then get out of town or even the country. "It gives you a chance to settle yourself and lets the publicity die down," Erica Sandberg, personal finance expert and author of "Expecting Money: the Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families," told us.

7. Set up an LLC or trust.

While it might be impossible to use an LLC to claim the actual prize, once you move to a new place you can buy your home and all of your assets under one to prevent people from tracking you. "Set up an LLC or trust in order to build anonymity," said Josh King. "The structure you need here will be determined by the law of the state the winner resides in. You’ll need to work with a very experienced, very discreet attorney to do this in a way that it can’t be figured out by a determined investigator." Marty King agrees, saying, "You're probably going to buy a new home anyway, so don't buy it under your name. Using an LLC makes it harder for people to find your new address. Use trusts to hide the identity of any assets. You can hide your new existence."

8. Don't make any big purchases for a year.

It may be tempting to treat yourself to a number of shiny new toys, but those purchases also draw attention to the fact that you have money to spend. It's best to maintain the appearance of your normal life, while quietly working with your money management team. "Have a trusted friend rent a modest place in a remote location under his/her name," said Blaine. "A place where there are no neighbors."

This article, originally published in January 2016, has been updated to reflect the latest lottery news.