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Catfish or Powerball winner? Internet freaks out over skateboarder’s claim

Pro skateboarder Erik Bragg posted on Instagram Wednesday night claiming he won the lottery. (Photo: Screenshot)

People are freaking out over whether or not skateboarder Erik Bragg won a cut of the Powerball jackpot on social media.

Shortly after the numbers for the record $1.6 billion Powerball jackpot were announced Wednesday night, Bragg posted a photo on Instagram claiming that he purchased the winning ticket in California.

A photo posted by Erik Bragg (@thisguysthelimit) on Jan 13, 2016 at 8:10pm PST

In the post, Bragg poses with a lottery ticket that has the winning numbers.

“OMG I WON $1.5 BILLION. I’m posting this in case anyone tries to jack me this is proof! Look it up, I bought in chino hills where I grew up! #powerball,” Bragg said. USA TODAY has reached out to Bragg for comment.

As of Thursday morning, the post had over 73,000 comments and almost 90,000 likes. The comments range from questions of what photoshop app Bragg used to congratulations and requests for free skateboards.

Here’s where the plot thickens.

Within an hour of posting the Instagram photo, a Twitter account purporting to be Bragg popped up on social media and other unverified accounts soon followed.

Twitter accounts with the handles @ErikBragg_lotto,@ThepowerballGuy and @DudeDupeer tweeted that anyone who followed or retweeted the account would get a small cut of the lottery winnings.

One of the accounts claiming to be Bragg tweeted, “No one needs all this money! I’ll give $1000 to every person who RTs this tweet! Must be following! #Powerball.” Another said, “Not selfish! Giving away 1,000 to everyone who retweets this and follows me within 24 hours! #Powerball#giveback.”

The tweet has almost 16,000 retweets.

Not selfish! Giving away 1,000 to everyone who retweets this and follows me within 24 hours! #Powerball#givebackpic.twitter.com/ZQnXN9RjLV

The overwhelming consensus on social media is that the accounts are fake, but A+ for effort!

I don’t know what’s more funnier #ErikBragg tricking the world or the group in Tampa who spent $175,000 on tickets 😭😭😭 #Powerball

if every fake erik bragg account pitched in a dollar we could get another $1.5 billion jackpot lmao #Powerball

folks, I won the lottery. That’s right it’s me. Erik Bragg from Chino Whatever, California. RT for 89 cents. God bless.

Another person tweeted that changing your Twitter handle to Erik Bragg could result in more followers. A win-win, obviously.

Why has everyone changed their Twitter names to ‘Erik Bragg’ saying they’ve won the lottery just to gain more followers haha

The catfish accounts appear to be using photos from Bragg’s public Instagram account. While Bragg has yet to confirm whether he is actually the winner or just the victim of yet another Internet catfish ring, one thing is certain, a winning ticket was purchased in Chino Hills, Calif., where Bragg grew up.

Winning Powerball tickets were also sold in Munford, Tenn. and Melbourne Beach, Fla.

People are freaking out over whether or not skateboarder Erik Bragg won a cut of the Powerball jackpot on social media.

Chino Hills Powerball winner still unknown as hoaxes keep appearing

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While the real Chino Hills Powerball lottery winner hides, the hoaxers will play.

So far, there have been nearly a half dozen people falsely claiming to hold the winning ticket; it’s one of three purchased nationwide that’s worth $528 million.

The Southern California golden ticket — the others hail from Tennessee and Florida — was purchased at a 7-Eleven in Chino Hills, but beyond that, there’s not much information about who bought the ticket. Franchisee owner Balbir Atwal said it could be any one of hundreds who shuffled through his convenience store before Wednesday night’s drawing.

But there’s been no shortage of people claiming they are the lucky winner:

• A local skateboarder

Shortly after the numbers for the $1.5 billion Powerball jackpot were announced, professional skateboarder Erik Bragg posted a photo to Instagram claiming he had purchased the winning ticket in Chino Hills.

The post, which had more than 123,000 likes and more than 89,000 comments as of Friday afternoon, showed Bragg holding the winning ticket. Some commenting on the photo allege it’s digitally altered.

Dozens of copycats quickly filled the Internet. A Twitter account under @iAamErikBraggs gained more than 800 followers since Wednesday night.

• A Toronto rapper

Toronto-based rapper Adam Raine, posted a photo to Instagram promising to split his winnings with girls who direct-messaged him. His photo gained more than 800 likes and 180 comments since Wednesday night.

• Facebook photo goes viral

Eric France, a self-described freelance graphic designer and photographer, posted a photo on Facebook, claiming to be the winner. The post has been shared more than 211,000 times and has been liked by nearly 263,000 people as of Friday afternoon.

• Not just tweets, fake tweets

A fake Twitter account, claiming to be Atwal, said he would give $100,000 to someone who would retweet him. The fake account also claimed that Atwal knew the winner. Meanwhile, a man under the user name @jaredpricebillionairewinner posted fake Fox News tweets to Instagram calling him the official Chino Hills jackpot winner. He had more than 3,000 followers as of Thursday night.

• Prank goes really wrong

For several hours, a 62-year-old nurse working at the Park Avenue Healthcare & Wellness Center in Pomona thought she was the winners in Wednesday’s Powerball lottery. Her ticket, was gifted to her by her employer. Josh Nass, a spokesman for nursing home owner Shlomo Rechnitz, said on Thursday afternoon that Rechnitz sent 600 tickets as a gift to his employees at the Pomona center on Wednesday. By Thursday night, it was revealed her son had tricked her into believing she had won.

Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, said people do it for the social reaction, and technology enables them to track their effectiveness in real time.

“It’s a terrible thing to do, but it’s about power. The kid gets all the attention, even though it’s largely negative,” she said. “A lot the hoaxers do it for the power and attention.”

With the weeklong hype surrounding the Powerball lottery, Rutledge said people were naturally going to be drawn to it.

“If you want the attention, you do whatever it takes,” she added.

Janet Johnson, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Texas, Dallas teaches new media and social media and agrees.

“I think because of the magnitude of the story, everyone wants to know who won the billion dollars. Because it’s such a national story, they want in on the story and they want in on the fame,” Johnson said.

When he first heard one of the winning tickets was purchased in his city, Chino Hills Councilman Peter Rogers thought that was a hoax.

After California Lottery officials confirmed it, the councilman was inundated with text messages, all asking him if he was the winner. There were similar emails and messages to his Facebook account.

Suddenly, people from out of town were asking him if he won just because he lived in Chino Hills.

“My phone went dead. I had to post a message on my Facebook that I’m not the winner,” he said.

Rogers admitted he was hoping it was the nurse, but in the past 36 hours, he has heard numerous rumors.

Social media is a great tool to see how far a hoax can go, Johnson said.

“Now they can send a story, and it goes viral — the internet trolls on steroids,” she said. “They’re trying to infiltrate and see, ‘How far I can go this with this.’ The one thing the screen gives us is the ambiguity that we haven’t had before.”

But, Johnson added, there are consequences.

“Data doesn’t lie. It can always be traced back to the person,” she said.

The spike in hoaxes prompted lottery officials on Friday to issue a word of caution.

People claiming to have winning tickets must report to lottery offices and are subsequently vetted through an interview and investigation process, according to California Lottery spokesman Russ Lopez.

“We welcome people to come in. It’s not an intimidating process, but when we feel people are trying to cheat the system, we look at them very closely,” Lopez said.

People still get duped in part because they trust what they see on their social media accounts.

“People see on Facebook that ‘my friend shared this with me, it must be right,” Johnson said. “I always tell people: ‘Be aware of the share.’

Rogers acknowledged he’s getting more jaded with each new claim.

“It’s getting to the point where this is ridiculous,” Rogers said.

Rutledge said people may be reaching a peak on the hoaxes and becoming more cautious of what they hear.

“I think people will get bored and desensitized to it,” she said.

Staff write Nereida Moreno contributed to this report.

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