Amy Sancetta / AP
Mirlande Wilson may or may not have a Mega Millions lottery ticket entitling her to a piece of a $656 million dollar-pie, but there's no question she has the country pie-eyed, waiting to find out what's behind her ever-evolving story.
The 37-year-old mother of seven claims the winning ticket was purchased at a 7-Eleven store in Baltimore, after which she hid it at the McDonald's where she works. Now, Wilson says the ticket has been "misplaced"; meanwhile, an anonymous person in Kansas has just claimed a share of the prize.
While many have raised doubts about the veracity of Wilson's tale, one burning question stands out: Why would anyone lie about something so huge?
There's a tremendous amount of uncertainty regarding this particular story, says Monroe Friedman, emeritus professor of psychology at Eastern Michigan University currently living in Santa Monica, and we don't know that she's lying -- but, in general, people get caught up in escalating lies for a variety of reasons, he explains.
"It could be situational," he says. "You've had a down day or a down year. You've lost your job or your mate. For various reasons, you feel the need for attention."
But you don't need a bad day or a bad year to get caught up in a whopper, he says.
"Others just have a neediness," he says. "They feel unfulfilled, but it's been going on for a long time. It's more enduring. It's not a spur of the moment thing."
As an example, Friedman points to the many people who contact police departments to take credit for crimes they haven't committed.
"People often seek attention, and publicity and society has machinery to give them attention," he says. "Every time a murder occurs, people call the police and say they're the murderers. And they do this for a variety of reasons -- because they feel guilty or ashamed or needy or they're seeking attention."
One recent case of attention-seeking involves Tania Head, who claimed she escaped the South Tower on 9/11 (and lost her fiance in the North Tower), but whose story turned out to be a complete fabrication.
A new book and documentary entitled "The Woman Who Wasn't There: The True Story of an Incredible Deception" looks at Head's escalating lie and the reasons behind it.
“I think it’s about acceptance," co-author Robin Gaby Fisher told Matt Lauer on TODAY Thursday. "Why else would she do it? When she was growing up she had a real craving, a real need for attention. And that just got bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger. She wanted celebrity.”
Friedman, an expert on cons, scams and swindles, points out that some situations are much more than just lies that have gotten out of control. Case in point: the story of the Balloon Boy.
"That was more of a hoax," says Friedman. "It goes beyond a lie. The balloon boy story required elaborate planning. Police will talk about short cons and long cons and the balloon boy would be a long con."
Could Mirlande Wilson's mysteriously missing lottery ticket be part of a con?
"If it is a con, it could be an opportunity for attention to be showered on her by the news media and may be an opportunity for her to receive attention, which might translate into financial benefit," he says. "But it's impossible to say. All we can do is point to possibilities and I don't like to point to the most unkind possibility."