Recently, an article by Melanie Payne, the "Consumer Watchdog" of the Southwest Florida News-Press recounted several instances of readers learning of, then claiming, unclaimed property being held by the state. While we have recounted a number of similar stories, one thing in this article stuck out. Some of the owners interviewed for the article said that she did not originally pursue the money because she "believed it was a scam."
This is a very common problem, and probably one of the main reasons why property goes unclaimed. Why do some people believe that unclaimed property is a "scam?" Or, to put it another way, why don't people believe that unclaimed property is real? There are a number of reasons, including:
* They think that it's too good to be true. People are naturally disinclined to believe that they will get money for "nothing." And generally, they're absolutely right. Unclaimed property, however, is not money for "nothing." Unclaimed assets are not free money that falls out of the sky, but rather money that was owed for some reason, but simply was not paid due to an error.
* Sometimes, it is a scam. Sadly, while unclaimed property is real, that doesn't mean that every person who contacts an owner is reputable. As the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators has recognized, there "are many unclaimed property scams across the United States." The promise of unclaimed property, abandoned lottery winnings, and similar assets can be used to facilitate identity theft and similar crimes. Accordingly, some owners who get mailings from a company or state requesting personal identification information are reluctant to provide this information.
Whether an owner's reluctance to claim his or her property is a result of disbelief or simply an unwillingness to go through the claim process, the result is that millions remained unclaimed, even though most owners could probably use a few more dollars. While many states are now undertaking significant efforts to publicize the availability of unclaimed property and to streamline the claim process, there is still a long way to go.