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.
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:
- S. savings bonds — www.TreasuryHunt.gov, operated by the U.S. Department of Treasury
- Federal tax refunds — irs.gov/refunds, run by the Internal Revenue Service
- Unclaimed insurance funds for veterans — insurance.va.gov/UnclaimedFunds, operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
- Money in a federally insured credit union that failed, run by the National Credit Union Administration
- Pension money in some companies that went bust.
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.
Also of Interest
- A new breed of con artists
- Get help: Find out if you’re eligible for public benefits with Benefits QuickLINK
- Join AARP: Savings, resources and news for your well-being
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