Lottery Ticket "Switch-A-Roo"

More than half of Americans have played the lottery this year and while not everyone wins, it's infuriating to think that your winning ticket might be snatched by an unscrupulous clerk.  Lisa Guerrero and the I-Squad investigate.

Bob Sehested was in it to win it.  “I bought 50 tickets for my 50th birthday.”   Sehested went to his neighborhood store in Camarillo, California, to check his stack of lottery tickets for winners.  

“I handed my ticket to the retailer and he said, ‘You won four bucks’ and he gave me four more tickets and I walked out,” said Sehested.

Watch The Full I-Squad Report On Lottory Ticket Switches

He didn't think anything of it until he heard on the news there was a $500,000 winner sold at the same store. Searching for the winner, lottery officials released a video of the customer purchasing the half-million dollar winning ticket.  “I'm looking at the video and all of a sudden, I noticed my wife. And then I looked closer and it's me and I said it can't be me because I won 4 dollars.”

Turns out, that oh-so-friendly lottery clerk was a thief. He kept the half-million dollar winning ticket for himself and tried to cash it.

Lottery officials confirmed that Sehested bought the winning ticket and was given a $500,000 check during a press conference.   

“It didn't cross my mind for a minute that he cheated me. I trusted the guy,” Sehested said.

Inside Edition found the lottery ticket "switch-a-roo" is happening all over the country, crooked clerks stealing winning tickets, and now lottery officials are cracking down.    

INSIDE EDITION’s Lisa Guerrero went on an undercover lottery sting with Jack O'Donnell from the state lottery in Ohio.

Already, his undercover investigators have caught a slew of shady clerks, like one guy from Dayton.  When an investigator handed him a $10,000 winning ticket, the clerk told him that he only won five dollars.  “Five dollars, that's what I figured,” the undercover investigator told the clerk. But when he tried to cash it, he was promptly arrested. 

Across the country In Washington state, lottery security director Len Brudvik went into a store with a $20,000 winning ticket. But the clerk told him that it's a loser and even threw the ticket in the garbage. Then, after the investigator leaves, the clerk scooped that ticket out of the garbage.  When he tried to cash it he was busted.

Brudvik said, “He knew when I was standing there what the ticket was worth. He knew it was worth $20,000.”

At another store in Washington, two  clerks seem giddy as they plan to rip off an undercover investigator who just handed them a $1,000 winning ticket. They paid him just two bucks.

But when they showed up to the lottery office to collect, those smiles quickly disappeared when cops arrested them.

Back in Ohio, Inside Edition watched from a nearby van as investigators went from store to store posing as construction workers to see if clerks would pay off on $10,000 winning tickets.

At a convenience store in Columbus, an undercover investigator enters the store and hands the clerk the winning ticket.  But he's told it's a loser.

“Any of them winners?” asked the investigator. 

“Nah,” replied the clerk.

But the clerk didn't cash the ticket, investigators say he sent a female friend to the Ohio lottery office to collect the winnings.

The next day, we accompanied lottery officials as they went back to tell the clerk he was going to be charged with a crime. 

Guerrero asked   the clerk, “  Did you steal a $10,000 ticket?”

“I'm not going to comment on that at this time,” said the clerk.

Guerrero follows-up, “A man walked in yesterday and gave you a group of lottery tickets, one of them was a $10,000 winner and yet you said there were no winners in those clump of tickets.  Why did you do that?” asked Guerrero.

The clerk repeated, “I'm not going to comment on anything.”

He's pled not guilty to grand theft.

“What did he tell you and your investigator when you went in to talk to him?” Guerrero asks Jack O’Donnell from the Ohio Lottery.

“At first he told us that he found the ticket in the garbage is frequently an excuse they use when they get caught, he then he admitted to stealing the ticket.,” responds O’Donnell.

So what should you do to avoid a rip off? Officials recommend the following:

  • Sign all your tickets immediately upon purchasing them. That makes it difficult for anyone else to cash it in.
  • Don't rely on the clerk to check your ticket, check the ticket yourself, most stores have a ticket checker that tells you if you are a winner.
  • And listen for winning chimes that many machines sing out for winners.

O’Donnell has one message clerks thinking about pulling a lottery ticket "switch-a-roo", “Eventually, we are going to find out who you are and have you arrested.”