Lottery winner held hostage from winnings over little-known law

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    A woman who nabbed a jackpot in the lottery said she was "held hostage" from her winnings thanks to a little-known law.

    Hilde McMillen was overjoyed when she won $1,000 (around ยฃ789) in a draw in Florida, US, but was prevented from pocketing the cash.

    McMillen said: "Oh my God, I was excited! At that time, yeah I needed the money."

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    However, the 82-year-old was confused when her winnings didn't arrive in her bank account and she was told she was being denied the money thanks to an unemployment rule.

    Winners reported the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) stopped them from claiming their dosh if they had been overpaid in unemployment benefits.

    McMillen, who previously worked at the Double Tree Hotel, said she collected the pay package at the start of the Covid pandemic when the holiday company shut its doors.

    She later received a letter saying she had been overpaid by about ยฃ156, which she rectified instantly.

    "My daughter-in-law helped me, and we sent it in right away," she said. "And that was the end, I never heard nothing no more until I won my fortune here."

    McMillen said the problem was brought to her attention after she bagged her lottery victory.

    "They told me they're not going to pay me. Because I had an overpayment on my unemployment. I say I can't believe that, I say, I paid that already.

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    "[It] took almost three hours to get [the DEO] and the lady was very nice, but she couldn't help us with nothing.

    "They held me hostage from my own money. My $1,000 was sitting at the unemployment office and nobody did nothing."

    And McMillen isn't the only one to have suffered a similar fate โ€“ about 70 people have reported similar stories, according to WFTS.

    One was Sara Magnetta, who received a similar letter after winning a lottery jackpot.

    "Something that was so exciting became an absolute nightmare," Magnetta said. "I felt like this could hit home for a lot of people."

    Most of the people contacted by WFTS in connection with the issue didn't even know they were owed money. The outlet gathered data from the Florida Lottery's public lottery which showed a total of 9,804 winners received a "potential outstanding owed debt alert" between January 1, 2022, and January 31, 2023 โ€“ three-quarters of which were reportedly from the DEO.

    A McMillen was sent by the DEO said: "You were without fault in creating this overpayment and the department has determined that recovery would be contrary to equity and good conscience."

    McMillen added she is also getting back the $200 she had paid back the DEO. She said: "So in other words, I didn't owe them nothing."

    The DEO issued a statement saying they have the procedures in place in a bid to stop fraud, but admitted that "just because an overpayment is flagged in an account, it does not mean that an overpayment has occurred".

    Dozens of people who didn't originally get their winnings because of the rule have since been able to claim them.

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    • Money
    • National Lottery

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