‘Found’ Money for a Fee? Beware of New Surge in Unclaimed Property Scams

‘Found’ Money for a Fee? Beware of New Surge in Unclaimed Property Scams



A longtime scam is back with a vengeance: Claims that state officials are holding money or property that belongs to you, and all you need to do is pay a fee to claim it.

Actually, the first part could be true. You could be entitled to a slice of some $43 billion in “unclaimed property” that sits in state treasuries – money from forgotten bank accounts, insurance policies, stock dividends, utility security deposits, even contents from abandoned safe deposit boxes.

But you don‘t have to pay anyone to get it. The only cost is spending a few minutes at www.MissingMoney.com, www.Unclaimed.org, or websites of the treasurer’s office in each state where you lived.

Ignore “pay-for-payment” requests that come via mailed letter, email or telephone calls because they are from scammers, and reports about the come-on cons have increased ten-fold this year compared to 2016…and in recent weeks, have exploded in many parts of the U.S.

There are several variations in unclaimed property scams, each angling for personal information (that could be used for later identity theft) and upfront payment to secure missing money that, if actually awaits you, can always be claimed for free:

  • Fraudsters lie about being an employee or affiliate of a State Treasurer’s office where you currently live, or a state where you previously resided.
  • Fake correspondence comes on letterhead from the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), a legitimate organization that represents state unclaimed property programs but does not directly contact citizens.
  • Self-described “finders” or “locators” who say they have already located your missing money or will do the legwork on your behalf. Some are legal but unnecessary middlemen who charge commissions up to 40 percent (although some states cap allowed fees at 10 percent); others are crooks who do nothing more than collect your payment and personal information – including Social Security number – to direct you to publically available websites…if they do anything at all.

Most targets in unclaimed property scams are chosen randomly. Fraudsters buy mailing lists to reach hundreds or thousands of citizens with the same bogus claim. (Last year, it was a letter claiming to be from NAUPA or the “Office of the State Treasurer” that falsely stated that recipients had unclaimed sweepstakes winnings whose allocation would require a $2,250 service fee.)

But for a more convincing con, some would-be victims are contacted after fraudsters search MissingMoney.com or Unclaimed.org to unearth specific details such past addresses or actual entitlements.

In addition to those two websites, DIY (and no-cost) due diligence for other missing money can be done for:

 

All of these websites will require your Social Security number and other sensitive information. But unlike scammers, you will not be asked for bank or credit card information. Don’t reveal personal information unless you initiate contact with these agencies or use their websites.

For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network. You’ll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud, and gain access to a network of experts, law enforcement and people in your community who will keep you up to date on the latest scams in your area.

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Photo Credit: iStock/Pogonici

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Fear by Phone: High Anxiety for You, High Profits for Scammers

Fear by Phone: High Anxiety for You, High Profits for Scammers


The telephone is a scammer’s best weapon, used in 77 percent of money-netting schemes, reports the government’s latest scam-tracking data. The best ammo: Fear, and here’s how it bangs best for the biggest bucks:

“Official” intimidation. The most profitable and most-played schemes have fraudsters posing from a government agency – Medicare, the Social Security Administration, FBI, local police and, of course, the IRS. (Until busted last year, one India-based ring of IRS imposters was netting $150,000 per day preying on retirees and other Americans.)  These self-described G-men threaten dire consequences – lost benefits, impending arrest and hefty fines – for supposed (even minor) offenses unless a fine is immediately paid and/or ID theft-worthy personal information is “verified.”

Why hang up: If there’s really an issue, government agencies will contact you by U.S. mail – not phone. Arrests aren’t pre-announced. Tax-supported agencies do not demand, or may even accept, scammer-requested payments such as prepaid debit and iTunes cards.

“Friendly” fraud. Along with emotions, the fear factor climbs with scare tactics made by those you supposedly know and trust: Grandchildren claiming trouble while traveling (which nets some imposters $10,000 per day) or in a recent resurgence, subject to a telephoned virtual kidnapping. Online sweethearts with a sudden overseas emergency that requires financial help. Your bank, credit card or utility company, supposedly warning of account problems and lost service.

Why hang up: So you can verify the claim and contact your loved one or institution before providing money or information to those just claiming to be. Scammers can glean call-convincing information like relatives’ names from social media and online directories.

Robocalls. The messages are terrifying in many of 2.4 billion robocalls made each day: You are being sued. You can fall and die without that “free” medical alert device. You are overpaying interest on your plastic. You need quick action to avoid these and other problems.

Why hang up: Notice what isn’t mentioned in these robocalls? Your name. Autodialers are programmed to blast millions of prerecorded calls per day; until recipients respond, fraudsters typically have no idea of who gets their robocalls, or if dialed numbers are active. So don’t say anything after “Hello” or push any key, not even to supposedly “opt out” of future calls; that only alerts callers that your number is live. Meanwhile, the Federal Communications Commission recently proposed new rules, expected to take effect in coming months, to allow phone companies to block robocallers that “spoof” Caller ID numbers to conceal their actual area codes and identities or make them appear as to belong to a trusted entity.

Debt collectors. Generating more complaints than any category – including identity theft – debt collectors often try to scare targets into paying a debt…whether legitimately theirs or not.

Why hang up: It’s illegal for collectors to threaten or be abusive. Despite their lies, police don’t arrest for unpaid debts and garnished wages or Social Security benefits can only occur for delinquent state or federal debts such as unpaid student loans, taxes, government-backed mortgages or child support – not private debt.

If you really owe, you may want to talk once with calling collectors to try to resolve the matter. If it’s not your debt or you don’t wanted continued calls, write a letter saying so – sent by certified mail with “return receipt.” Once receiving your letter, collectors may not contact you again, with two exceptions: to tell you there will be no further contact or to let you know that they or the creditor intend to take a specific action, like filing a lawsuit. (Your letter doesn’t get rid of legitimate debts, only calls related to them). Report violators to the Federal Trade Commission or Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network. You’ll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud, and keep tabs of scams and law enforcement alerts in your area at our Scam-Tracking Map.

Photo: ponsulak/iStock

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