by Barbara Parrott McGinity, LMSW
The prospect of “free” money and undiscovered riches is a fantasy held by us all. This is one of the main reasons sweepstakes scams are so successful. But there are “legitimate” companies that are designed to take a fee for work you can do for yourself at no cost. The ones we frequently hear about use a common theme, “we have found money in your name.” Now they have your attention, but how do these schemes work.
Homestead exemption for over age 65 – if you are over 65, you can apply for an additional exemption on your property taxes for up to one year to file after you turn 65. If you file late and have already paid your taxes you will receive a refund.
There are people who spend their time going through the property tax rolls looking for individuals who have failed to file this exemption. For a fee they will file the exemption for you, but you can do this yourself at no cost, keeping all of the refund instead of sharing it with someone. Not a scam, but definitely a scheme to take money from you for nothing.
Missing or found money – Every state keeps a database of unclaimed property. If an entity cannot find you or gets returned mail, they turn the unclaimed property and assets over to the state. The most common types of unclaimed property include: bank accounts, safe deposit box contents, stocks, mutual funds, bonds, dividends, uncashed checks and wages, insurance policies, certificates of deposit, trust funds, utility deposits, and escrow accounts.
The scheme works like this: They send a letter stating they have found money in your name and for a fee; they will help you get your money. The trick is, “in your name.” There might be money for an individual with your name, but that does not mean it is actually you. Just someone with the same name.
If you get one of those letters or postcards there are resources you can research on your own for no fee. If you have only lived in Texas all your life and would have no unclaimed property in another state, go to the State Comptroller’s website at http://www.cpa.state.tx.us to search the database.
If you have lived in another state, you can go to http://www.missingmoney.com to do a search. But not all states are part of this website, so you might have to search for the unclaimed property in each individual state where you have lived.
Personally, I never been the recipient of found money but I have done searches for family and friends and have found as much as $400. It is worth the time to search, but it is not worth paying others. Always be skeptical when you are suddenly the recipient of newly found riches. The reality is you are likely making someone else richer than you yourself.