Unclaimed Property--It's Not (Usually) a Scam

Have to ever seen advertisements telling you that you may have unclaimed property that a state government is holding onto for you? Whenever I saw those commercials, I thought, yeah, right. If I were missing a bunch of money, I'd know about it! Also, as recently as last year, I looked myself up at one of those sites that I saw Suze Orman recommend. Of course, I didn't have anything to my name, though apparently my late grandfather was owed about 90 cents.

Fast forward to the end of last year, and I get an email from my brother, who has recently checked one of these sites and found that I, in fact, have unclaimed property. I think, yippee, there's a $2 check out there somewhere with my name on it. But I go to the website and look myself up and sure enough, I have unclaimed property. And though the website won't tell me the amount, apparently it's in excess of $50! I do some poking around and notice that the highest amount the website will divulge appears to be this mysterious "in excess of $50." (And my grandfather still hasn't collected his 90 cents--what is he thinking?)

To claim my money, all I have to do is fill out a simple form with my name and address--and include a copy of my driver's license and Social Security number. This is where you obviously want to be very careful that you're dealing with a legitimate source. I did some research online to cross check that I was, indeed, about to mail my information to the State of Missouri and not to someone who wanted to steal my identity. They said I would receive my check within 90 days.

After a couple weeks, I received a notice in the mail that my claim had been received. Still no word on how much I was owed or what the money was from.

After a little less than 60 days, I receive a check in the mail. Since I know it's going to be for more than $50, I'm expecting about $50.01. So imagine my shock and exhilaration when I see a three-digit number--I had $222 in unclaimed property, now all mine on this wonderful piece of paper.

And still--no explanation as to what it's for!

So I have no idea what this money is from. My best guess is that it's a state tax refund from when I was in college. I worked all through college, I moved around a lot, and I never had my mail forwarded when I changed addresses. I was also out of the country for a good six months while I studied abroad in Spain. So it's quite conceivable that I could have missed a tax refund check. It stuns me that I could have had that much money owed to me and not noticed it was missing, but even though I have always been diligent with my money (and even my parents' money, when they were helping me), I didn't always write everything down like I do now. Now I do things like mark my Outlook calendar with "should have received MO unclaimed property by today." I keep a detailed spreadsheet for invoicing my clients. I write down every penny I spend and every penny I earn. I even write down when I find money, as long as it's paper. How could I have not noticed so much money missing for so long?

So what am I going to do with my found money? Well, my fiance, of course, wants me to spend it on something fun. It is, after all, found money and there's no reason I couldn't justify blowing it on whatever. But no, I am going to put it in the bank. The value of peace of mind is worth more to me right now than more stuff. Taken another way, I look at that check as X hours of work I don't have to do if I put it in the bank instead of spending it. The free time is also more valuable to me than more stuff.

If you'd like to see if you have unclaimed property using the same website I used, here's the link: www.unclaimed.org. Click on your state and the site will take you directly to that state's unclaimed property webpage. Every state has an unclaimed property division, and you can also usually find a link to your state's unclaimed property division directly through your state's website (try looking for the state controller's page (sometimes called comptroller instead of controller) if you can't find the unclaimed property page). Make sure to look your name up through the state website of EVERY state you've ever lived in--otherwise, you might miss something.

The New York State Comptroller's website provides guidance on how you might missing your money in the first place:

"How do accounts become unclaimed?

Did you ever...

  • Move without notifying everyone with whom you do business of your new address?
  • Open a school savings account as a child or for your own child and then forget about it?
  • Move without getting your utility deposit refund?
  • Forget to cash a health insurance check?
  • Neglect to cash interest or dividend checks on a security?
  • Leave a job and never go back to get your last paycheck?

In cases like these, your money is eventually turned over to the State."

According to the State of California, the most common types of unclaimed property are the following:

  • Bank accounts and safe deposit box contents
  • Stocks, mutual funds, bonds, and dividends
  • Uncashed cashier's checks and money orders
  • Certificates of deposit
  • Matured or terminated insurance policies
  • Estates
  • Mineral interests and royalty payments
  • Trust funds and escrow accounts
Getting back to my post title, are there illegitimate unclaimed property websites out there? Isn't there an illegitimate version or twenty of everything on the Internet? (Yes.) So always use caution when working with one of these sites. Don't give out your personal information until you're sure it's going to the place you intend it. Also, if you receive an email advertising that there may be unclaimed money in your name, don't trust the email--it's probably spam. Definitely don't click on any links in the email. Don't allow a third party to "handle" the process of finding your unclaimed money for you, and definitely don't work with any site that wants a cut (like 15% of whatever unclaimed property they find in your name). Even if the company is legitimate, why give them a cut of the money when it's so incredibly easy to do the work yourself?

Good luck!

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Post by Amy Fontinelle


Melanie said...

Hey, great tip! I just found $32 in back wages I forgot about. Not bad for a few minutes of work. :-)

Anonymous said...

"definitely don't work with any site that wants a cut (like 15% of whatever unclaimed property they find in your name)."

Why wouldnt you pay for a legitimate service??? Dont you get paid for what you do?

Amy Fontinelle said...

Some people may not be aware that finding unclaimed property is something they can do themselves--something that they don't need to hire someone to help them with. In the case of finding unclaimed property, I think most people would prefer not to pay for something that they can easily and quickly do themselves.