Lottery Post Exclusive
by Todd Northrop
Maine's Morning Sentinel newspaper appears to have revealed a lottery winner's address and social security number in a published photo.
In a story that ran in the February 27 edition of the Sentinel, Newport resident Venison Turner Jr. was pictured together with his son, holding a copy of a winning ticket worth $300,000 and the paperwork filed with the Maine Lottery. The man's personal information is clearly visible.
In the Sunday, March 11 edition of the Sentinel, a letter from reader John Ferry was published, scolding the paper for missing the glaring mistake.
"What has he won? Because of the lack of editing he has won a lifetime of grief," Ferry wrote. "Within seconds of glancing at this picture, I noticed the form in the picture includes the man's name, address, telephone number, date of birth and even his Social Security number."
Photographs of smiling lottery winners holding giant mock checks made of cardboard are commonplace after a big win. The photos normally display the winner's name and prize amount, both of which are required to be disclosed anyway, so they are not considered private.
But disclosing a winner's address and other personal details can magnify the already difficult task of maintaining a degree of privacy that winners face, and may even be dangerous.
Criminals looking for easy targets have targeted lottery winners in the past. Because lottery winners often come from humble beginnings, they typically do not have the security resources or experience to protect their new wealth — a fact that thieves use to their advantage.
Publishing a winner's address immediately after a big prize win allows a quick-acting thief a window of opportunity, before the winner is able to equip themselves.
A famous example is record Powerball winner Jack Whittaker, who has been repeatedly robbed over the years, due in large part to his notoriety combined with naiveté.
According to Eric Conrad, Executive Editor of the Morning Sentinel, the photo was taken at the winner's home.
Even though Conrad emphasized that the photo was not displayed on any of the newspaper's web sites, it was indeed posted on the Sentinel web site, and continues to be displayed on the web site as of the date of this story. (http://morningsentinel.mainetoday.com/news/local/3660226.html)
Additionally, the photo in question can be enlarged by directly linking to the image file. Although the image is not displayed in high resolution, it may be enough for image experts to extract the personal information from it. (http://morningsentinel.mainetoday.com/news/local/includes/global2/centralmaine/photos/070227-3660137.jpg)
Lottery Post has obtained the photo from the Sentinel's web site, and we have purposely blurred the personal information, so as to illustrate the point with further disseminating the prize winner's personal information.
Lottery Post's attempts to reach the Maine Lottery for comment were ignored by the government agency.
After the original photo ran in the Sentinel on February 27, the newspaper, as well as the winner himself, were contacted by readers concerned for Turner's safety. Conrad published an explanation of the newspaper's actions a day later.
Lottery Post presents Conrad's complete statement below.
Editor explains lottery winner's photo
Venison Turner Jr. is doing OK.
Tuesday's Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal ran a photo of the Newport man holding his winning, $300,000 Maine lottery ticket and claim form.
Unfortunately, in many issues of the newspapers, Turner's Social Security number and other data could be read. The photo was not posted at our newspaper Web sites.
I talked to Turner twice Tuesday morning and apologized for what happened. Photographer David Leaming did likewise. We also alerted officials with the Maine Lottery.
Turner was told about the photo by a friend before our first telephone call, and he already had contacted the Social Security Administration's fraud-prevention office.
The office told Turner how to go online and post notices with all major credit-reporting agencies so that no one can open an account using Turner's data without Turner, personally, approving the transaction by telephone or in writing. Turner has taken those steps.
Our newspapers have offered to hire an accountant or other professional to review Turner's credit reports to make certain his finances, and his recent good fortune, are protected.
At this point, Turner isn't sure that is necessary.
The photo was published this way: Leaming went to Turner's home Monday to take the winner's photo, and asked if Turner had the winning ticket or something official from the Lottery officials.
Turner retrieved the claim form, and the photo was snapped.
Several editors at the newspaper saw black-and-white, printout copies of the photo, but the numbers generally were not legible in them. Blown up in size as it appeared in the newspapers, many of the numbers could be read.
About a dozen readers called and wrote to us Tuesday about what happened. Thank you for pointing this out.
— Eric Conrad, executive editor [Morning Sentinel]