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Lottery ticket thieves beginning to strike across Tennessee

Feb 16, 2004, 6:01 am

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Tennessee LotteryTennessee Lottery: Lottery ticket thieves beginning to strike across Tennessee

Lottery fever isn't just for paying customers.

Thieves from Memphis to Knoxville are trying to cash in on the games, and store owners are taking matters into their own hands to counter them.

Ali Haimed of Memphis learned the hard way that criminals have a new target after the lottery's Jan. 20 startup. When he opened his store Jan. 30, about $1,500 worth of tickets and the clear display case they were in were both gone.

"They took the whole box," Haimed said.

Several lottery ticket thefts have been reported in Memphis, records show. Police expect the number of thefts to increase, said Lt. D.L. Sheffield of the department's economic crimes unit.

"Anytime you have something new, you're going to have somebody exploit it," Sheffield told The Commercial Appeal newspaper.

Store owners also have been accused by customers of cheating. Tony Kareh said some of his customers have complained that other stores are overcharging them for lottery tickets.

"Some of them call it a fee, which is completely against the law," he said. "There are some storeowners and store workers who are very bad."

No lottery crimes have been reported in Nashville, but a man was accused of stealing 1,000 tickets last week in Knoxville and about $800 in tickets were taken in Chattanooga.

"We've been talking about it and we're probably going to have a problem," said Sgt. Tommy Woods of the Chattanooga Police Department.

Those who steal lottery tickets won't get very far with them, Tennessee lottery spokesman Kym Gerlock said. If a storeowner activated tickets before they were stolen, the thief would have a short amount of time to cash them in, Gerlock said. If they were not activated, stores can tell immediately.

Police and store owners must report thefts to the lottery's security division, which then notes the ticket numbers so other stores will know they are stolen.

"I don't want to say it's foolproof," Gerlock said. "But it is near foolproof."

The Georgia lottery operates with similar protection policies against ticket theft, a spokesman said.

"There have been incidents," said Georgia lottery spokesman J.B. Landroche. "But they are pretty infrequent."

Kareh keeps his tickets in a safe at night.

"You can put it in the cooler or behind some product," he said. "Never show something from the window that would encourage someone to bust through the door."

Although they're not using stolen tickets, some people try to collect on already-cashed tickets, Kareh said. Knowing the tickets have already been cashed, Kareh asks the people who gave them the tickets.

"'Oh, my cousin,'" he said. "They come up with something."

Another problem that has popped up since the start of the lottery are phone calling cards that look similar to tickets. Tennessee Attorney General Paul Summers is looking into the legality of the cards that often sit near lottery tickets on store counters.


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