What Is an Unclaimed Property Scam?

What Is an Unclaimed Property Scam? article image.

Have you received a text message or letter notifying you that you're entitled to unclaimed property? It's a common scam: An unknown sender offers you a large amount of unclaimed cash, and all they ask for in return is your Social Security number or the password for your Venmo. If this happens to you, hit pause. Any requests for your personal data or financial information should elicit your suspicion. While unclaimed property is real, so are unclaimed property scams. And they're increasingly common.

"With the rise in identity theft problems in the country, we are aware of the risk more than ever before," says Kathleen Lobell, director of unclaimed property at the Louisiana Department of the Treasury and senior vice president of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. "We're working to ensure that our tools to monitor and catch these bad actors stay up to date."

Anyone could be victimized by a scam like this, but—as with most scams—the elderly are at a high risk of being targeted for their information, Lobell says.

Instead of engaging with fraudsters who say they can connect you with unclaimed property, use official sites to search for it yourself. Here's what you need to know.

What Is an Unclaimed Property Scam?

Unclaimed property is money and other assets that get turned over to the state when the owner can't be found. If you forget to cash a paycheck, overpay a utility bill or leave behind a security deposit, to name a few examples, that money eventually gets handed over to the state if you can't be found. The state holds on to it until you reach out to claim it.

Unclaimed property scams take advantage of this process to try to steal your identity or assets. Typically, a scammer attempts to lure you into providing your information by pretending to be a government official. They may promise to reunite you with a large sum of money or some other asset, such as a car. In reality, they're just trying to take advantage of you.

How to Avoid Scams and Safely Claim Your Property or Money

Act defensively to avoid unclaimed property scams. If a message attempts to create a sense of urgency and fear with a warning like "time is running out; respond right away," don't engage.

"It's always better to look for the agency's contact information independently instead of responding to the message," Lobell says. "The best way to ensure you are dealing with a legitimate source is to look for the .gov domain or use a trusted source."

One way to quickly identify an unclaimed property scam is if a source claiming to be from your state government contacts you via text. "A state will never contact you by text," Lobell says.

It's easy and free to conduct a search for unclaimed property. To get started, use the official National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators website to learn how to conduct an unclaimed property search in your state. Alternatively, you could use MissingMoney.com, which conducts a national search and directs you to file a claim on the state-specific site if any unclaimed property is found.

Avoid Third-Party Services

While these are not necessarily scams, unclaimed property locators, also called "finders," charge a fee to locate your unclaimed property—something you can do for free.

While finders are typically acting legally and are even regulated in some states, it isn't necessary to use one. Plus, it can be challenging to tell a good finder from a bad one.

"Remember that state unclaimed property offices do not charge anything for searches or to facilitate claims," Lobell says. "If you're asked for money, it's not a legitimate state site."

The Bottom Line

Unclaimed property scams are increasingly common. If you've been contacted about money that could be yours, verify the notice by searching for unclaimed property on a legitimate website. That way, you won't lose cash or risk having your identity compromised when trying to claim the property.

If you'd like to better protect your identity from fraudsters, Experian CreditWorks℠ Premium can monitor each of your credit reports from the three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) for identity theft, provide identity theft insurance and connect you with personalized fraud resolution agent support whenever you need it.

You can also mitigate harm by requesting a fraud alert on your credit reports that asks potential creditors to verify your identity before issuing any new credit in your name. You can file a report with the Federal Trade Committee and with law enforcement if your identity has been compromised.