For anybody, but especially those who are living on a tight budget or are struggling to make ends meet, a call from somebody with a pitch to send unclaimed money can seem like the answer to their prayers. Finally, they can stop worrying about whether they’ll make their rent payment for the month or afford to get new shoes for their child.
So, they do what’s required to get their money — send in a fee and share their personal details — and fall prey to a con artist.
According to a 2017 article for Pew Trusts, these unclaimed money scams are growing, luring consumers to the scam who are eager to shore up their finances and get their money. In the end, they not only don’t get the promised funds, they’re also lose the fee they paid and could even set themselves up for even more costly identity theft.
“These scams are just rampant,” David Milby, director of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, told Pew Trusts. “The email from the public we’ve been getting about this has increased tenfold in the past year.”
Many consumers do have unclaimed property somewhere. It often comes in the form of forgotten savings or checking accounts, stocks and uncashed dividends, according to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. All states have programs that aim to return money to its rightful owners, and the association is comprised of leading unclaimed property administrators in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
Each year, these government officials get tens of millions of inquiries from consumers and return more than $3 billion each year, according to the group.
People can contact states directly — and for free — if they think they might have unclaimed money or other property out there. The unclaimed property administrators association makes that easy to do on its website or on MissingMoney.com, where you can search multiple states at the same time.
But, when the person on the other end of a phone call or email is promising you money, it’s hard to say no. In 2017, Maine’s state treasurer warned residents that fraudsters were targeting them and recommended they be cautious of anything they get by mail or email promising unclaimed money.
“Each year, new schemes are created that attempt to take advantage of Mainer’s familiarity with our Unclaimed Property Program. While there are many differences between our program and these schemes, the easiest way to spot a scheme is if it asks for payment information,” State Treasurer Terry Hayes said in a press release.
In 2018, the Massachusetts state treasurer raised similar red flags about fake documents that scammers were sending to citizens and reminded them that it’s free to search and claim their money.
It’s easy to avoid these scams if you know what to look for — and understand that the unclaimed property administrators association offers free ways to get your money. Here are four ways to stay safe.
If you get a call, email or letter out of the blue, check up on the company first. According to the unclaimed property group, some states do work with companies to track down people. But the company must be registered with the state to do the work. Contact your state’s unclaimed property office before you sign any kind of contract to ensure they are a legitimate business.
If the caller or sender contacted you out of the blue and is promising you thousands of dollars, it may be tempting to pay a fee or share details about your identity or banking information. Don’t do it. Instead, ask them what official agency they are calling from, hang up and do your own research to determine if it’s for real or if they’re just trying to con you out of your hard-earned cash.
According to ABC News, state unclaimed property offices don’t reach out to consumers to let them know they have unclaimed money lying around. Neither does the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. It just helps the administrators do their job. It’s up to consumers to seek out the money by simply typing their name into the association’s website.
As the state treasurer in Maine said, the easiest way to spot a scam is if it asks for money. Don’t tie up your own funds to get cash that will never come.
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