Monthly Archives: June 2015

The Fallacy of Free Money and Undiscovered Riches

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.

Why Don’t you do More Public Awareness

by Barbara Parrott McGinity, LMSW

One of the most common questions we receive from individuals reporting a scam or revealing they are victim is “why is there not more public awareness or efforts to warn people.” Actually that is what we strive to do on a daily basis.

We collaborate with local news stations to do stories on scams. This monthly column is another outlet we use to do public education. And the BBB Education Foundation staff is available to make presentations to any group who wants a speaker on the topic of scams and fraudulent business practices.

But despite our efforts, we are never going to reach every living soul at any one time. This really needs to be a community effort if we are going to have a major impact.

What do I mean by community effort…I actually mean you. How often do you get together in social settings whether it is bowling, bridge at the senior center, lunch with the church group, garden club, or other club meetings and actually talk about some new scam you’ve learned about? Maybe it is something you read here in the Chronicle, heard on the news, or saw in a magazine. Do you talk about how it works, what you learned, how to safeguard yourself?

Taking the time to pass on knowledge in a casual social setting could be a start to our working to defeat those unscrupulous people who spend their every waking hour coming up with some new way to steal your money. Because I see and hear this everyday, nothing really surprises me anymore. What I am surprised by is how people are fascinated to hear about the latest scam and just cannot believe what goes on day after day after day.

When individuals call to tell me about a phone call or letter they got promising riches but they were smart enough not to be caught, I ask them to share this information with everyone else. It is going to take a larger force than just the BBB to educate people and inoculate them against the most current scams. Think about what you can do.

Then of course there is your family. So many calls we get are from older adults who have very capable adult children, but they don’t tell their children what is going on in their lives and they don’t ask their children for help when they need it. Reaching out to family members and your children to get help when you are confused, in trouble over a debt, or worried you may be a victim of fraud is not a negative, but a positive.

Letting family members help you and guide you in making important decisions can be the best way you keep yourself safe. Being fearful of what they will think only leads to stress and anxiety, resulting in both mental and physical health problems. There really is no need for you to carry the burden alone, let those that love you help you shoulder the load.

If we work together educating each other or providing support, we can go a long way in putting an end to the financial abuse that targets older adults.