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Experts say lottery winners smart to prize privacy

The tiny Illinois farm town of Red Bud is the kind of place with few strangers and few secrets. Yet the community of 3,700 has a lingering mystery on its hands: Who bought the winning Mega Millions lottery ticket, and why hasn't the winner of the record $656 million jackpot come forward?

Though secrecy surrounds the ticket sold at the MotoMart convenience store, lottery officials note it's not unusual for winners to lay low -- and those who advise them say it's just plain smart.

It's exactly what the Kansas winner of the March 30 Mega Millions drawing decided to do. Kansas Lottery Director Dennis Wilson said the person came to the agency's Topeka headquarters Friday with an attorney and some financial advisers. Wilson said the person does not want to be identified, even by gender -- something Kansas law allows.

"They obviously don't need the publicity," Wilson said. "They're not used to the publicity of where they're from, where they live."

A third winning ticket was sold in Maryland, and questions fester about a woman claiming to have it.

For all of its promise, instant riches come with a price, starting with the immediate barrage of calls from relatives and distant friends eager for a handout. Never mind the need to hire specialists to address tax implications and craft a disciplined investment strategy that could avoid the fate of past lottery winners who have burned through vast fortunes or found they were better off before they struck it rich.

"I'm so happy I'm seeing this. This is exactly what they should do," said Susan Bradley, a Florida certified financial planner and founder of the Sudden Money Institute, a resource center for new money recipients.

"Some people are really afraid -- scared of blowing it, losing who they are and being taken advantage of. Hopefully they're getting their ducks in a row and starting to settle into the magnitude of the experience."

"If you understood how unbelievably complicated this is, you might not play," she added. "That's not to say that winning is a bad thing. (But with a jackpot), all your old problems are over and all your new ones are just starting."

In Maryland, the spotlight has been on Mirlande Wilson, a McDonald's worker who has claimed to have one of the winning Mega Millions tickets, only to tell NBC News on Thursday that she misplaced it. Her attorney, Edward Smith Jr., said the attention caused Wilson's blood pressure to spike and has kept her seven children from playing outside.

In Illinois, big jackpot winners are compelled to make themselves public to prove the lottery is paying out its prizes -- something that wasn't done decades ago when such games of chance were scams, Illinois Lottery Superintendent Michael Jones said. Though the lottery could insist winners do a news conference, Jones said officials offer some wiggle room to those who want privacy.

"We will work with whoever the prize-winner is," he said. "But we would publicize as much as we can about the winner as is needed," and "ultimately an enterprising reporter can find out who that person is."