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  • Writer's pictureEzra N. Goldman

You've got money! Some ins and outs of Unclaimed Property

The calls can drive you crazy. Fast talking salespeople are trying to sell you something but it is not a magazine subscription and they don't want you to vote for a particular candidate. They are trying to tell you that you have "lost money." Lost money! That sounds great! Who wouldn't want to find money? Which of us is so rich that he wouldn't bend down to pick a dollar up off the ground?

You are wisely skeptical for a number of reasons. First, we have all heard of a scam named after it place of origin, the lovely and beautiful country of Nigeria. The scam, in one form or another, has you earning a big check and then send a small fee back to the scammer. The check, after several weeks, turns out to be fake but you have already sent the scammer $10,000 of your fake $1 million. The bank holds you responsible for the $10,000 and the scammer is in Nigeria, way out of reach. Many fall for this - the moral of the story is that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

That is why this is so difficult. The fact is that every one of our fifty states is holding tens of millions of dollars worth of abandoned accounts and uncashed checks. And the people who work in the industry of recovering these funds tend to charge a contingent fee after you get paid. So, you indeed get a big check and are expected to send someone back money. Sounds just like the other. And it gets worse -- the government agency holding the money will not release it without your drivers license and sometimes they even want your social security number. Anyone who knows anything about keeping data secure might tell you to walk away before giving up either of those. Yet, I have recovered millions for clients this way. In fact, I recovered over $4 million for a single client this way.

I think the biggest issue people have about this sort of thing is that everyone pretty much knows where his money is. If I left money in an account at some point, it is $5.00 -- not $5,000.00. So where would I get a lot of unclaimed money from?

There are a few answers. The first and obvious one is from a deceased relative. You might be the heir to someone who died with money in a bank. The banks will eventually turn money over to the state treasury when they don't hear from a client for decades. The account has the deceased person's name on it. You may not be close enough to Aunt Bessie to know that she lived, let alone died. So, someone did that work and tracked you down and now is bugging you to collect you money, to pay their fee.

Or, you could have life insurance. In around 2000, many of the big life insurance companies demutualized, granting shares to all the policy owners. If they didn't have a correct address on file for a policy owners, those stock shares, which were based on the value of insurance, would have come back in the mail and the insurance would have sent them to the state as unclaimed property. The states typiucally sell the shares and hold them as cash, awaiting a claim from the owner.

Collecting money from the states can be done without help. But so can an oil change. And cooking dinner. "I can do it myself" is not exactly a reason not to engage a professional to do a service. So how can you distinguish whether something is a scam or if you actually have lost money? At that moment, my best answer is to hang up the phone and call me -- I will recover any money you have for you, not charge until the work is complete and you will know you are dealing with someone does that sound?

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