EPISODE 46 ~ FIND YOURS: Girl Scouts: Help A Girl Scout Troop Find Its Unclaimed Money With A Simple Search

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On episode 44 I told you about all of the boy scout troops owed unclaimed money.  Well, it’s only fair for me to give equal time to girl scout troops!  Title 9 and all that.

I once had the pleasure of surprising the Girls Scouts USA office in Pasadena, California with unclaimed money.  It was a win-win because I left with a couple of boxes of brand new types of girl scout cookies as a little thank you.

But there’s more out there!  Just now I searched the obvious term “Girl Scouts” on the missingmoney.com free website and got 35 hits for girl scout troops from Arizona to Wisconsin.

Some of the banks that have turned in money for the girl scouts are Capitol Federal Savings, Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase.  There are also businesses that had lost girl scout money, like Bon Ton Department stores and Bay State Gas Company.

When you’re searching for unclaimed money, you should try every logical set of key words you can think of, so next I searched “Brownie Troop.”  That yielded another half dozen missing money accounts, half of them near me in Virginia.

One fun thing to do is to search in Texas and California, the only two states that actually tell you the exact amount you are owed.  I tried putting “Girl” in the first name box and “Scouts” in the last name box in Texas —a good reminder to always try different combinations— and I got 33 pages worth of hits!  Each page has close to 20 listings.  Wow!

Right on page one was a big one: The Aransas Pass Girl Scounts Fund is owed $3,479 from a CD that matured and they never cashed in.  If you know anybody there, please pass the word!   Yikes, that same troop also lost track of a $3,248 savings account.  Sounds like the volunteer troop leaders in Aransas Pass are a little overwhelmed or disorganized.

The Challenger Girls Scouts Day camp in Houston has an unclaimed money account worth $1,149, an old checking account turned over by Woodforest National Bank.   And I found several other girl scout unclaimed money listings worth more than a thousand bucks.

Now why am I telling you this?  Well, if you are a troop leader, for goodness sake, SEARCH for your troop.  Money at not-for-profits is always tight and you could find the solution to your problems at MissingMoney.com or unclaimed.org, the two FREE sites I recommend for finding your unclaimed money.

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EPISODE 45 ~ FIND YOURS: Unclaimed Money: People Just Like You Are Finding Five Figures Worth Of Unclaimed Money

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Imagine getting a letter from your state saying that a relative left behind a big pile of unclaimed money and you need to claim it.   That’s exactly what happened to my guest.  His father passed away in 2013 and left behind a tangle of financial accounts that were hard to sort out …and one of them went missing.  My guest is named Harry.  We’re skipping his last name and where he lives.  You would too if you had suddenly come into such a nice chunk of money.  Welcome, Harry!

People are often skeptical that they would ever lose track of their money and it would become unclaimed.  How did it happen to your family?

My father died in 2013 and he had a complex array of accounts. He had dementia and lost his span of control over everything. So I had to do my best to track everything down and apparently I missed an account.

Your dad died in 2013.  How long did it take before you heard that their might be unclaimed money out there for him?

2017, so 4 years.

And what actually prompted the state to let you know about the unclaimed money?

It was triggered by my mother dying. Her death was announced in the newspaper and the state put two and two together.

Are you impressed that your state actually does research like that to try to get people’s money back to them?  I can tell you that a lot of states would be perfectly happy if nobody ever claimed their money, because they USE our money until we do.

In this case they were terrific. Very easy to work with.

How did you get the news?

I received a letter from the unclaimed property unit of my state and they reported there was unclaimed money for my father.  It had been one of his accounts.

Most people I talk to think it’s a scam when they get a letter like that.  Did you believe it?

I did believe the letter – I was used to surprises. It took me a year before I thought I had found all my father’s accounts and then I learned I hadn’t. this was something else that popped.

As part of your research, after your father passed, did you check unclaimed money sites?

I don’t think I did look at unclaimed money sites when I was looking for his records after his death.

What did you have to do to claim the money?

All I had to do was file some paperwork.  Copies of his death certificate and my mother’s death certificate. They contacted me as representative of her estate. They were incredibly efficient.

Once you had done your part, how long did it take before you received your father’s unclaimed money?

It was about 3 months start to finish and one day the check just arrives in the mail.

OK, now the question everybody’s been wanting me to ask: Harry, how much unclaimed money did you receive?

It was around $85,000.  The amount was surprising to me. I had no expectations.

And that was divided between you and two sisters?

It didn’t come to me personally. It came into the estate account and is being parceled out to heirs. There are 3 siblings.

What would your father have thought about his money being lost and then found?

I would like to hope my father would have been happy.

And what about you?  Is this meaningful money for you?

I retired in a little over a year ago, so it was very nice in building the nest egg.

Harry, thank you for sharing your story on Easy Money.  It proves that unclaimed money can be in the five-figure range like yours was — or even more.  And I hope your example inspires other people to check MissingMoney.com and unclaimed.org, both free websites, to see if they, too, have unclaimed money out there.

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EPISODE 43 ~ FIND YOURS: Unclaimed Money: How The Government Might Claim Your Money That Isn’t Missing

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What if the government seized an account of yours as unclaimed money, even though it wasn’t unclaimed?  It happens all the time and that’s today’s “find yours topic.” 

For Carla Ruff of San Francisco, it was her safe deposit box that was drilled, opened and turned over the the state of California.  When I did a story about this for Good Morning America, we started calling them “not-so-safe” deposit boxes after we heard Carla’s story.

  Her case was particularly egregious.  She lived about 6 blocks from the bank and had a checking account there.  She received monthly statements for that account, so clearly the bank knew who she was and even knew her address.  And yet, for some, reason, the bank decided her safe deposit box was abandoned and handed the contents over to the state.

Once the state had the contents, it auctioned off Carla’s great grandmother’s precious natural pearls and other jewelry for 18-thousand dollars.  That, even though her own appraisal showed they were worth more like 82-thousand.  It hurt because she and her great grandmother had been very close.

So what’s going on here?  Why would a bank turn over somebody’s account to the state when it really wasn’t unclaimed?  It’s a combination of sloppy record-keeping and responding to pressure.  Yep, I mean that. 

Many states are facing budget crises and so they are grabbing money anywhere they can get it.  That’s why they put a lot of pressure on banks and other financial firms to turn over abandoned property.  They want to USE that money.  In California, unclaimed money is pumped into the General Fund.  Which means if everybody decided to claim their missing money at once, California would struggle to come up with the cash.  Frankly, they want as much as money as they can get and they’re hoping you won’t ever claim it.

Back when I did my investigation, I obtained a secret memo written by California’s then-head of unclaimed property in which he argued against expanding programs to let citizens know about their unclaimed money.   “It could well result in additional claims of money that would otherwise flow into the general fund,” he wrote.

It’s come to this.  States originally started forcing private industry to turn over abandoned accounts on the pretense that they would be better stewards of citizen’s money and hold it for safekeeping.  Some states do a great job of that.  Others, not so much.

That’s  why I urge you to search for and claim your missing money as soon as possible.  Or… listen to Episode 18 where I talk about how to keep your  money from becoming unclaimed money in the first place. 

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EPISODE 42~ FIND YOURS: Missing Money: Beware of Unclaimed Money Scams That Try To Take Your Money Instead of Giving It To You

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Let’s talk about our actual “find yours” topic for today: unclaimed money scams.  Fraudsters who try to get in on the unclaimed money goodness.  The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators or ‘NAUPA” is warning that scammers have been taking the group’s name in vain and trying to take YOUR money.

NAUPA is made up of government folks from every state department that works to return people’s unclaimed money.   So, needless to say, they were not happy about this.  The association posted a fake letter on its website to warn and educated people about the scam and I will link you to that page from EasyMoneyShow.com/42 so you can see for yourself.

The letter claims to alert people to an unclaimed sweepstakes listing in their name.  I have never heard of sweepstakes winnings being turned over as unclaimed money.  Clearly a scam. 

So what are the bad guys after?  In the sweepstakes letter they claim you have won $750,000, but that you owe taxes of $112,500.  That’s their hook, their way of extracting money from victims.  They are hoping you will pay them the hundred-grand-plus before you notice they haven’t paid you ANYTHING.   

This fraudulent letter even MENTIONS scams in an attempt to head off any concerns recipients may have.  Here’s a quote: “It is very important to stay alert for sweepstakes scams, however it is also equally important not to let your win pass you by because of things that might seem a little strange but are actually  a normal part of the award registration process.”  The letter goes on to advise people not to tell anyone about their win.  That’s probably an attempt to keep you from reporting this to the authorities.  Clever in an evil sort of way!

The letter appears to be on official NAUPA stationery, which is part of the hoax, but a telltale tip off to this ripoff are lots of subtle spelling and grammar errors.  For example, one line in the letter mistakenly says “After taxes you are entitled to receive AND amount of $450,000.”

So, what can we learn from this? 

  1. You should know that NAUPA never contacts people about unclaimed money.  It is just an association that government unclaimed money employees belong to, where they trade information about best practices for administering and returning unclaimed money.
  2. If you receive a letter from ANYONE claiming you have unclaimed money out there somewhere, you should ignore their requests for a cut of the cash and do a search yourself.  As always, the 2 FREE sites where you can find 90 percent of unclaimed money are MissingMoney.com and unclaimed.org.
  3. And finally, you should know that when you do claim legitimate unclaimed money, you are NEVER asked to pay taxes of fees to collect that money.  Ever.

Stay alert, people!

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EPISODE 40 ~ FIND YOURS: Unclaimed Money: Don’t Pay A “Finder” For Access To Your Own Money

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I’m happy to say that this week’s “Find Yours” blog came from one of you.  Let’s check it out.

Hi, this is Patrick in California.  I got a letter in the mail saying I am owed unclaimed money and this company can claim it for me.  I don’t want to pay them a percentage, but I have no idea where the unclaimed money is, so I feel like I may have to.  What should I do?”

Thanks for bringing up such an important unclaimed money topic, Patrick!  The letter you received was from what we call a “finder”  and I don’t think you should EVER have to pay a Finder for access to your own money.  These are opportunists who try to profit from other people’s unclaimed money by finding their accounts and asking for a cut.  The good news is that finders are usually only interested in good-sized amounts of  money, so you may have a nice nest egg waiting out there for you somewhere. 

If the Finder told you the amount of money you are owed, they either found the money in California or Texas, which are the only states that publish the amounts people are owed right online.   OR they submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to some other state and got a list of names and amounts of unclaimed money that way.  Many states will divulge that information in response to a FOIA request.

OK, deep breath, here’s what you do.  You search the way I always suggest you search: First you check the website MissingMoney.com, which automatically searches its 40 member states for you.  Then, if you don’t find the money there, you check unclaimed.org (remember, .org) and check the other 10 states that don’t participate with MissingMoney.  As a reminder, those states are: Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Oregon, South Carolina and Wyoming.  Remember, sometimes the money is held where the company is based or incorporated, rather than where you live, so it can be important to check those 10 states even if you’ve never set foot in them.  Keep checking until you find your money.

I estimate that the combination of  MissingMoney.com and unclaimed.org will turn up 90 percent of unclaimed money.

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EPISODE 39 ~ FIND YOURS: Stocks: Find Your Unclaimed Stocks Before The Government Sells Them at a Loss

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Let’s talk about our find yours topic for today: the importance of finding any unclaimed stocks or bonds before the government sells them off.

Here’s why this is crucial: one, many of us don’t keep close track of the investments we buy because we’ve been told to hold them for the long haul, so we just sort of let them stew and hope they go up.  This is incredibly common.  It’s also common for investments to go missing when they were given to you or your children by a relative.  Problem is, if you don’t at least keep in annual touch with the bank or brokerage firm where those investments are held, they could get reported as unclaimed property.

If your stocks, bonds or mutual funds get reported to the government as unclaimed property, the clock starts ticking.  Every state I know of is either required by law, or has a procedure for selling off seized investments, usually within just one year of receiving them.  Frankly, they want that illiquid asset turned into cash, because they USE the money until you claim it.  Problem is, the state’s unclaimed property administrators are not investment analysts and they often sell investments at a disadvantage to you.  They make no effort whatsoever to check and see if it’s an opportune time to sell, and often end up liquidating your stock when the price is low.  If you later make a claim, they’ll give you the amount they got for it, but that amount may be way less than it could have been if the  money stayed invested.

This is not theoretical: I did an in-depth investigation at ABC News of states doing exactly this.  A British man went to retire and discovered that the 4-million dollars in US stock he had been counting on had been seized by the state of California and sold for just $200 thousand dollars years earlier!  Another family had owned railroad land rights for generations, but the state sold those off, depriving the heirs of millions of dollars worth of value.

What to do?  First, keep your investments from becoming unclaimed property in the first place.  Be sure to make contact once or twice a year.  Email your banker or broker.  If you’re sent a proxy to vote because of a stock you own, do it, to show you are active.  Ask for an annual review.  They’re supposed to offer one anyway.

Now, if you’ve already lost track of stocks, bonds, mutual funds or other investments, get started searching for them right away.  As always, the first two places to look are MissingMoney.com and unclaimed.org because most lost investments get turned over to the state where you live and those 2 websites cover all 50 states.   To search for investments held in a 401k account, you can try the Employee Benefits Security Administration, part of the department of labor.

Finally, if you WERE in touch with your bank or brokerage, and you have proof, but your investments were seized as unclaimed property anyway, you may have great grounds for a lawsuit.  Something to keep in mind.

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EPISODE 37 ~ FIND YOURS: Broker: Recover Your Unclaimed Money From Brokers That Went Out-Of-Business

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Let’s talk about our find yours topic for today: how to recover unclaimed money from a brokerage firm that went out of business.

It turns out there is a little-known agency that handles these cases called the SIPC or Securities Investor Protection Corporation.  It’s kind of like the FDIC of brokerage firms, insuring customers’ accounts in the event the firm goes out of business.

The SIPC was established specifically to deal with cases where brokerage firms go under after a rash of bankruptcies in the 1960s. The SIPC liquidates and distributes failed firms’ assets, returning them to customers. The SIPC can’t protect you if your portfolio lost value, but it does protect you if the company went out of business and never gave you back your portfolio. 

First the SIPC uses the brokerage firms own assets to return customers’ money.  If that’s not enough, the SIPC taps into its own reserves to repay investors.  In fact, the SIPC provides something similar to an insurance policy of up to $500,000 for securities held for customers by a failed brokerage firm.

Little known fact: Even victims of the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme got much of their money back through the SIPC… 11 billion of the 17 billion lost.

Other brokerage firms the SIPC has taken over to get money back to customers include:

•Lehman brothers, which famously went out of business during the 2008 financial meltdown.

•MF Global Inc, which went under in 2011and was the 8th largest insolvency in brokerage firm history.

•Westor Capital Group declared bankruptcy in 2013 and those proceedings are still ongoing.

•In 2016, Global Arena Capital Corp went out of business but claimed not to owe any customers money.  The SIPC took Global Arena to court, victims testified, and the SIPC won the case and took over the firm’s assets.

•In 2017, there was Legend Securities.

Normally the SIPC takes over a failed brokerage firm’s paperwork, including lists of customers and mails out claim forms, but the system isn’t perfect and THIS is where I can help with some info: If your brokerage firm went bankrupt and was insured by the SIPC, you can be proactive and REQUEST a claim form.  Here is the page for all open SIPC cases, which is where you need to go to start the process.

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EPISODE 36 ~ FIND YOURS: Unclaimed Funds: Why You Must Search All 50 States To Be Sure You’ve Found Your Missing Money

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Let’s talk about our find yours topic for today: namely the importance of searching ALL 50 states if you want to be sure to find all unclaimed money owed to you. 

Yes, the states where you have lived are the top priority for a search, because unclaimed money is most often held in the state where the citizen lives or lived.  BUT that is not always the case!  The second most common location for unclaimed money is the state where the company that owes it to you is based. 

That’s because, by law, unclaimed property is supposed to go to the state where you live, but if the company doesn’t know your address, then that unclaimed property is required to be held in the state where the company is based. 

This can be confusing, because it doesn’t necessarily mean the state where you did business or where the corporate headquarters is.  For example, think of all the companies that do business in one state but are incorporated in the state of Delaware, because of it’s favorable incorporation laws.

This is why I say that a truly thorough search for your and your loved ones means checking unclaimed property records in all 50 states.  Having said that, it is NOT really that hard to do.  When you use the website MissingMoney.com, that automatically checks 40 states for you.  Then, you just head over to unclaimed.org —as always that’s .org— to check the other 10 states individually.

As a reminder, the 10 states you must check with unclaimed.org, because they don’t participate with MissingMoney.com— are Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Oregon, South Carolina and Wyoming.

I would LOVE to profile somebody who found their unclaimed money in the state where the company was based instead of their own home state.  So PLEASE, let me know if this happened to you.  You can get in touch with me at EasyMoneyShow.com/contact.

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EPISODE 35 ~ FIND YOURS: 401K: How To Find Your Missing 401K From An Old Job

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And now let’s talk about our find yours topic for today: how to find your lost 401k plan from a former job.

If your old employer is still in business, chances are you can find your plan by contacting the company.  But if the firm is no longer around, the Employee Benefits Security Administration —part of the Department of Labor— can help you with this.  EBSA calls them “abandoned plans” and says there are several reasons why an employer might abandon its pension or 401k plan. In some cases, the employer goes bankrupt.  In others, the plan sponsor has been jailed, fled the country, or died.  Bad for them and for you!

EBSA has developed an Abandoned Plan searchable database to help participants and beneficiaries find out if a particular plan is in the process, or has been, terminated. The site is searchable by plan name or employer name.  If you find something, then EBSA will direct you to the Qualified Termination Administrator or QTA administering the plan.  Gotta love the government and it’s acronyms.  A QTA is usually a bank, insurance company or investment firm that has agreed to get the 401k money to the account holders.

The QTA will provide you with something called a “notice of plan termination.”  This document will tell you the different ways you can receive your money.  If you don’t choose a preferred method within a month, the QTA may well roll your 401k money into an IRA for you.  That’s common.

When you search EBSA’s database of abandoned plans, you may find that your former employer is in there but that the process for getting you your money back has already passed.  In that case, you should call the QTA —again that’s the Termination Administrator— for help.

If you go to EBSA’s searchable database and don’t find your old 401k, then you can actually call EBSA and speak to a real live human to get further help.  The phone number is 1-866-444-EBSA, but I will post it at EasyMoneySHow.com/35 so you don’t have to memorize that.

It’s important to get on this before fees eat up your 401k money.  So if you’ve ever contributed to a 401k at an old job and can’t recall if you took it with you by rolling it over, just do a quick search.  I tried it and it takes about 2 minutes.  Literally!

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