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Action Line: You don’t need help to find ‘lost’ money

Action Line has tips for how to tell if an offer to retrieve unclaimed funds is legitimate.
Action Line has tips for how to tell if an offer to retrieve unclaimed funds is legitimate. MCT

A reader: My elderly aunt just received a notice in the mail that I had $3,258 in unclaimed funds just waiting for her. The notice said that they could get the funds for me. They are asking for a fee. Is this is a legitimate offer?

Action Line: Sounds like it’s your aunt’s lucky day. And yes, there is a way for you to find out if this is legitimate. There are many, many companies that search state records and then try to contact the right owner of the assets to “help” you get your money.

First things first: Go to bbb.org and check out the company that sent you the solicitation. A BBB Business Review can often tell you where the company is located, what type of business it is and licensing information if there is any required for the industry. A business review can also tell you how long a company has been in existence and, more importantly, if there is any complaint history.

You can also go online to check with the state controller’s website to see if they are holding any unclaimed funds in your name. Some of the forms of unclaimed assets might be dormant checking and savings accounts, unpaid wages, utility deposits, loan refunds, stocks, bonds, dividend payments or refund checks. The state enters the scene when whoever owes you the money has lost track of you (usually after three years). At that point, the state takes possession of the property and tries to locate the owner.

The state of California states that they are in possession of more than $8 billion in unclaimed property belonging to approximately 32.5 million individuals and organizations. You could well be one of them.

Here’s how to do it yourself, and it’s free. You can simply access the state controller’s website at www.sco.ca.gov or call the toll-free number. For callers within California, the number is 800-992-4647; the number for callers outside of California is 916-323-2827. All states maintain an office for unclaimed funds. To locate an unclaimed funds office in another state, you can go to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators’ website at www.unclaimed.org.

The State Controller’s Office reports that they have received complaints from the public about emails from individuals who claim to work for the state controller. The emails instruct the recipient to contact a private attorney for assistance in recovering their lost and abandoned property, including that from a relative’s estate. The state controller does not send out unsolicited emails about unclaimed property, nor would she refer individuals to a private attorney.

It is a violation of state law for individuals and companies to falsely identify themselves as representing a state official. If you receive similar solicitations, please forward them to the controller’s office at EOInquiry@sco.ca.gov so the controller’s legal office can pursue appropriate action.

The controller strongly recommends that you not respond to these false solicitations, as the senders are seeking personal information and will charge fees for recovering property that you can obtain for free. If you think the company that contacted you is a scam operation, you can report it to www.Ftc.gov/complaint and www.bbb.org/scamtracker.

Action Line is written by Blair Looney, president and CEO for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 4201 W. Shaw Ave., Suite 107, Fresno, CA 93722 or info@cencal.bbb.org.

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