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Scam Alert

Track Down Unclaimed Property

Find money you didn't know you had without paying a fee to a con artist

Nearly $33 billion in unclaimed assets sits in state treasuries and other agencies waiting to be handed over to its rightful owners: money from forgotten bank accounts and insurance policies, for instance, uncashed paychecks and stock dividends, decades-old security deposits paid to utility companies.

Want to know whether any of it belongs to you? Just check Unclaimed.org, MissingMoney.com or contact the state treasurer's office in every state where you've lived.

You can do this yourself, for free. There's no need for self-described "finders" or "locators" offering their "expertise" in retrieving your entitlement — for a fee.

At best, they're legal but unnecessary "convenience service" middlemen who charge commissions up to 40 percent of the recovered amount. Often they do little more than guide you to those websites or provide you with forms that they downloaded for free.

Others are outright scammers who demand outrageous upfront fees and or try to wheedle personal information from you that's then used for identity theft.

The latest warning about unclaimed property scams concerns an outfit calling itself the Florida Department of Financial Restitution. Claiming to have a contract with that state, it asks for an upfront fee of $600 when it promises citizens help in retrieving unclaimed property.

In reality, says Jeff Atwater of the real state agency, the Florida Department of Financial Services, this group has no ties to the government or even a legal corporate standing. He says it contacts people telling them they have unclaimed property when, in fact, they do not.

Similar warnings about fraudsters with names that seem reassuringly legit have been issued in other states. In emails, phone calls and sometimes mailed letters, they may pose as or claim ties to government officials or the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), a real organization that represents state officials who manage unclaimed property programs.

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