According to an article by Aaron Martin on BrookfieldNow.com, a Wisconsin lawyer faces up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $25,000 for trying to fraudulently claim more than half a million dollars in unclaimed property. According to the article, the dishonest lawyer (no, that's not redundant) -- "targeted mortgage foreclosure cases in which foreclosed homeowners failed to collect surplus funds generated from homes being sold in sheriff's auctions."
This spotlights one type of unclaimed property that is very likely to increase for the next couple of years -- proceeds from sheriffs' sales. In light of the huge uptick in foreclosures arising from the current financial crisis, many defaulted properties are sold by Sheriffs' sale -- a public auction (generally conducted by the county sheriffs' office - hence the name) at which the property is sold to pay off the outstanding mortgages. Sometimes, however, the amount that the property sells for is more than the outstanding mortgage. In that situation, the excess proceeds are the property of the former homeowner.
These excess sale proceeds were the item targeted by this fraud scheme. According to the article, the rogue attorney "forged signatures on power-of-attorney documents and stamped them with bogus notary seals. He then filed the forged documents in Milwaukee County Circuit Court, duping judges into signing orders for payment of surplus funds."
Just as the jump in foreclosures has lead to more unclaimed property, so too will it lead many try to take advantage of it.