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Lucky Lotto Winner Says Sneaky Clerk Stole His $1 Million Ticket - And It May Have Happened Before

When you play the lottery, the odds are already stacked against you. But a customer is warning that you need to have more than just good luck to hit the jackpot, you also need to keep your wits about you.

Carlos Figueroa bought a scratch off lottery ticket at a CVS in Waukegan, Illinois last month. His "Merry Millionaire" card was a $1 million winner, but when he tried to check the ticket in an automatic machine, it clipped the ticket in half. Figueroa says he took the half-ticket to the clerk, and that's when things got tense.

Figueroa says that the clerk, Russell Kelly, "coerced" him into handing over his half of the ticket, and when he finally handed it over the man disappeared. Kelly returned 20 minutes later and told Figueroa the ticket was a loser. But Figueroa says the lottery ticket the clerk handed back to him was not his original one.

The two men argued over the ticket, but the clerk held fast and insisted that it wasn't a winner. It sounds like a totally bizarre situation, but experts say it's actually more common than you would expect, and they're sharing tips to help keep your winnings safe.

Maybe you've heard of similar case happening in your state. It's not an everyday occurrence, but lottery boards do warn players to be careful with their tickets.

Watch clerks get caught stealing lucky tickets in this undercover sting video:

Famously, a clerk in Syracuse, New York stole a customer's $5 million ticket by passing it off as a $5,000 winner. The ticket's unlucky owner was sent home with just $4,000, because the sneaky clerk claimed he had to keep $1,000 for lottery taxes. Experts warn that he's not the first clerk to try and make a little extra by cheating his customers.

Some lottery boards actually tape undercover stings to see if store owners are being honest about big jackpots. In most cases, the scenario plays out exactly the same: the clerk checks the ticket, sees that it's a winner, but tells the customer it's a loser while pocketing the ticket.

Lottery boards warn to use the self-serve ticket machines whenever you can (although that didn't work so well for Figueroa). You should also sign the back of your cards as soon as you buy them, and when in doubt take the card to the lottery board's office to be checked.

Figueroa is suing to block the Illinois Lottery Board from cashing out the clerk's $1 million ticket until his lawsuit against Kelly is settled next year.

Has a clerk ever stolen a winning ticket from you? Share this story and tell us!

[H/T: Chicago Tribune, Newsweek]