En español | Anybody with an e-mail account has received one of these mysterious messages from the third cousin of the exiled King of Burundi, claiming that — upon His Highness's untimely death — you have been left his personal fortune of $3.2 billion. Or maybe you have won a sweepstakes you never recall entering. All you need to do to claim your fortune is turn over your bank account and other personal financial information.
See also: Five common money mistakes.
Everybody knows that's a scam. But it is possible that you are entitled to money or other property that's just out there waiting for you to claim it. Here are some legitimate — and free — online resources to check out:
Help from NAUPA: NAUPA (National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators) is a nonprofit organization endorsing two websites — unclaimed.org and MissingMoney.com — that can help you find unclaimed funds and other property held by the states. This may include monies due you or family members from such sources as forgotten bank accounts and inheritances, utility bill refunds, or security deposits. NAUPA estimates that about one out of every eight Americans is entitled to unclaimed assets, with the average claim being about $1,000. I didn’t believe it until I visited NAUPA's website and discovered that my family was due about $120 from a long-forgotten savings account my grandmother opened years before she died.
Unclaimed U.S. savings bonds: Maybe a relative gave you a savings bond when you were a kid and you forgot about it? Search the U.S. Treasury website at www.TreasuryHunt.gov.
HUD/FHA Mortgage Insurance refunds: If you had an FHA-insured mortgage, you may be eligible for a refund from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Funds owed to you by the Internal Revenue Service: Now wouldn’t that be a refreshing reversal of fortune if the IRS owed you? You may want to take a look if you think a refund check may have gotten lost in the mail or you did not file taxes one year due to your income situation. Visit the IRS website — "Where’s My Refund?" — or contact the IRS to refile or follow up on returns.
Class action lawsuits: As a consumer, it’s possible that you may be a plaintiff in a class action lawsuit as a result of something you bought, consumed or some other business you have transacted. Sometimes you get this information via the mail about a class action lawsuit against a company because of a faulty product. One of my friends was able to recover $118 in a class action suit against a car company because the manufacturer’s part was defective. This website provides updated listings of class action lawsuits and other information on the topic.
Government benefits: More than 1,000 benefit and assistance programs are available through the federal government. The U.S. government’s official website is designed to help citizens easily identify and access those benefit programs that may apply to them.
And, finally, a few words of caution: Never pay a stranger to help you collect unclaimed funds or other property rightfully due you. Also, don’t give out personal financial information (credit cards, bank accounts, Social Security number) to anyone offering to help you collect unclaimed assets — even if he is the third cousin of the exiled King of Burundi.
Jeff Yeager is the author of The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches and The Cheapskate Next Door. His website is www.UltimateCheapskate.com and you can friend him on Facebook at JeffYeagerUltimateCheapskate or follow him on Twitter.