Have you ever received a letter or email claiming your state has some unclaimed property that belongs to you?
VERIFY viewer Eric recently sent our team a text message saying he got a postcard from a company based in Texas that claims he’s entitled to an unclaimed refund valued at over $1,600. But if he decides to take the company up on its offer to help him get his money back, he’ll owe them a fee.
Eric asked if there is a free way to search for and claim unclaimed property — the catchall term for unclaimed money, assets or property — in his state.
Is it free to search for and claim unclaimed property in the U.S.?
Yes, it’s free to search for and claim unclaimed property in the U.S.
WHAT WE FOUND
In the United States, 1 in 10 Americans has some form of unclaimed property waiting to be collected. Unclaimed property typically refers to “abandoned” assets, property or money found in accounts in which there has been no activity or contact with the owner for at least a year, according to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.
“After a designated period of time (called the dormancy period) with no activity or contact, the property becomes ‘unclaimed’ and—by law—must be turned over to the state,” the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators says on its website.
Some of the most common examples of unclaimed property include an uncashed final paycheck from an employer, money left in an old checking or savings account, safe deposit box contents or some other forgotten funds.
There is no fee to search for and claim unclaimed property in the U.S. But there are third-party “finders” or “locators” that may offer to help locate and claim a person’s unclaimed property if they pay a fee.
“Many businesses, sometimes called finders or locators, offer to find legitimate lost property for owners and inform them of how to obtain it for a fee—usually a percentage of the total find,” the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators says.
These third-party services are legal, in most cases, and many are required to register within their state, as well as become licensed as a finder, according to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. Sometimes banks or utility companies may even hire a third-party finder to locate a person before the company is required to turn unclaimed property over to the state.
But the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators says you should be cautious before signing a contract with any third-party organization that contacts you offering to help you claim your unclaimed property in order to avoid potentially being scammed.
“You may pay third-party organizations to search if you wish—and for some, this is advantageous. However, remember that all the information is accessible free of charge,” the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators says. “Before signing any contract from a firm of this type, we recommend that you be cautious and contact the unclaimed property office in your state for more information.”
You can conduct your own search using your state's official unclaimed property website. Some states also offer outreach programs to help reunite owners with their unclaimed property. You can also conduct a free, online search of all states at once using MissingMoney.com, an official website of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.
In reference to VERIFY viewer Eric’s unclaimed property case, we reached out to the Office of the Texas Comptroller. Kevin Lyons, a spokesperson for the state agency, said people can visit Texas’ unclaimed property website and type in anyone’s name to see if there is any unclaimed property that belongs to them for free.
“A number of entities exist that charge folks a fee for doing something they could easily do themselves for free with our office. Before anyone engages the services of one of these companies we urge them to visit ClaimItTexas.gov to see just how easy getting their unclaimed property can be,” Lyons told VERIFY.
Although there are legitimate third-party organizations willing to help people claim their missing money for a fee, unclaimed property scams are on the rise. If you want to avoid falling victim, the Better Business Bureau shares the following tips on its website.
- Be wary of unsolicited correspondence. If you receive an unsolicited letter, phone call, email or any other kind of correspondence from a stranger, be careful! Most legitimate companies will not contact you this way unless you have previously given them permission to do so.
- Never give your personal information to strangers. Never give anyone you don’t know and trust access to any of your personal information. This includes your full name, phone number and address, your ID numbers, and your banking information.