So you've won the lottery and suddenly you find you have a bunch of new relatives. Distant cousins. A long-lost half-sister.
New Jersey lawmakers are looking to protect state lottery winners from potential moochers and scammers by allowing them to remain anonymous.
Only a handful of states permit lottery winners to keep their good fortune private, although some allow winners to put their money into trusts, allowing them some degree of anonymity.
A bill before the state Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation on Thursday (A3616) would allow New Jersey Lottery winners to keep their identities secret forever.
"I think people that win large lottery jackpots become easy targets and may not always have the sophistication to protect themselves at a time when this great attention and wealth falls on them," state Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, a sponsor of the bill, said.
If the spotlight doesn't intimidate you, winners will still be able to opt for the news conference, oversized check and public pomp. It's important that players have the choice, added state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, another sponsor.
"Do I have to tell the world I won? And then you're subject to everyone under the sun coming after you. It's just fair if you want to remain anonymous. You're going to pay the taxes on it. So why do I have to take a picture with somebody holding the big check," he said.
Lawmakers looking at similar legislation in other states talk about the so-called "lottery curse" that befalls some jackpot winners, whether it be bankruptcy or even violence.
New Jerseyan Evelyn Basehore had the rare luck of winning $3.9 million in the state lottery in 1985 and then $1.4 million in 1986. By 2012, she was broke and living in a Brick mobile home park, the New York Post reported.
"Everybody wanted my money," she told the website Bankrate.com in 2004. "Everybody had their hand out. I never learned one simple word in the English language — 'no.'"
Some rare cases have led to murder.
Abraham Shakespeare went won $30 million in the Florida lottery, taking home $17 million, according to news reports. Three years later he went missing and was eventually found buried beneath a concrete slab.
A Florida woman was found guilty in 2012 of first-degree murder after she was accused of befriending, stealing more than $1 million from Shakespeare and then killing him, according to reports.
Burzichelli sponsored similar legislation in 2013. The legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill he sponsored in 2013 to grant winners anonymity for a year — enough time to get their legal and financial affairs in order. But then-Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the legislation, saying it could "undermine the transparency that provides taxpayers confidence in the integrity of the lottery and its games."
"Moreover, the bill could have the unintended consequence of reducing lottery sales by hampering marketing efforts and the public excitement generated when lottery winners are announced," he said at the time.
Burzichelli said publicity shouldn't guide the state's policy.
"If that person wants that spotlight they can elect to have it, but if a person wants their privacy they should be entitled to it," he said.
But anonymity — names and addresses would be exempt from the state's open records laws — doesn't mean complete secrecy. State agencies would be able to share the information internally to collect back child support, public assistance overpayments, delinquent or defaulted student loan payments and other debts, according to the proposed legislation.