Clerk Cheats Customer Out of Winning Lotto Ticket: What Would You Do?

Would you say something if you saw a clerk steal a customer's lottery winnings?

May 4, 2010— -- We've all heard the old adage, "love thy neighbor," but is it easier said than done? Do people really live by their words? Does your neighbor really matter, when you think no one is watching?

In tough economic times, millions of Americans have turned to the lottery in the hopes of hitting it big, or making ends meet.

New York State, which has the highest lottery ticket sales in the country, saw a staggering $7.5 billion in revenue in 2009, from lotto sales alone. With increased sales, comes increased risk. Numerous cases of lotto scams pop up from coast to coast each year, but rarely, did customers have to worry about scams coming from the opposite side of the counter.

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What would you do, if you witnessed a store clerk cheating a customer out of a winning ticket? Every year, dozens of stores have their licenses revoked for illegally pocketing winnings that belonged to their customers.

"What Would You Do?" set up hidden cameras at Zap Wine and Spirits, a liquor store located in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y. We hired an actor, Ross, to play a store clerk and two actresses, Traci and Carla to play wronged customers.

In the scenario, customers dropped off their ticket with the crooked clerk and asked for him to check if they won while they stepped to the back of the store to grab a bottle of wine. When they returned with their hopes high, the clerk lied: "No, sorry -- not a winner." Would customers who saw the ruse stand up to the brazen thief or would they keep quiet?

The first attempt was met with eerie silence. While a loud jingle played to signal the customer was a winner and the screen above the register flashed, "INSTANT WINNER, $20.00" we heard nothing from our first customer. Her facial expressions suggested she saw everything, but she told us later she didn't want to get involved. She said she regretted the decision and in fact had been scammed out of a winning ticket before.

Our next customer also noticed the scam, but when Carla engaged her, "Did you see anything?" She looked down and quietly said, "No, I didn't see it."

Even when we raised the stakes and had the screen read, "INSTANT WINNER, $290.00," time and again, customers watched our crooked clerk pocket his ill-gotten gains, and said nothing.

Luck Changes for Lottery Winner

Our lottery winner's luck was about to change. As Carla approached the counter and asked, "So, did I win?" The clerk answered, "No, sorry, better luck next time." When Carla asked for her ticket back, Nebera Odom didn't hesitate and confronted the clerk, "It's in your back pocket."

The clerk adamantly denied that he stole the ticket and told the customers that he ripped it up. Odom having quietly observed the whole scene unfold, became much more animated, driving her hand into her fist, "You did never rip up the ticket, I'm standing here looking at you, he's stealing your money."

The two yelled back and forth at each other for several minutes before we decided it was time to introduce ourselves. Odom thought ABC News correspondent John Quinones was there to bust the store clerk and quickly pointed the finger, "So what is the problem with giving her the ripped-up ticket that you say she didn't win anything off?"

We wondered if people would be so honest if they were offered a portion of the winnings. Would an incentive be enough to make them keep quiet? The very first man Ross offered a cut of the action to stared at him with a look of utter disbelief, before spinning around on his heels and storming out of the store.

But as we were about to find out, not everyone would be so scrupulous.

Watch "What Would You Do?" Friday at 9 p.m. ET to find out if customers spoke up or cashed in on