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Unclaimed money: Do the search, but watch out for fees

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ZUMA Press/Newscom/File

(Read caption) In 2007, Barry Rosen received a notice from the state that he had unclaimed money due to him, so he filed a claim and has since received $3,200 from the state. Mr. Rosen, pictured in his Berkeley, Calif., home, said he was likely to put the money into a vacation.

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It’s one of those money dreams: A deceased relative had unclaimed property, which you suddenly turn up and recoup.

Billions of dollars are out there waiting to be claimed – everything from dormant savings or checking accounts and safe deposit boxes to unredeemed stocks, payroll checks, money orders, insurance payments, and annuities. Just for US savings bonds, the Treasury Department each year has 25,000 interest payments returned as undeliverable.

So it’s possible there’s a chunk of money waiting out there for you. Just one caution: If you do go searching for it, do it on your own – at least, at first. Be cautious about companies that promise to do the search for you, because their fees could eat up your gains.

The topic has generated considerable interest this week because “Good Morning America” has featured stories of people who found unclaimed money and experts who help them find it.

The main two places to look for unclaimed money are also the easiest: The US Treasury and the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) have both set up websites where you can search for forgotten savings bonds and property held by states. Treasury’s site is Treasury Hunt. The states’ website is www.unclaimed.org.

Beyond that, there are specialized sites to look for unclaimed insurance benefits, funds from failed banks, and unredeemed 401(k) plans. Good Morning America has compiled a good list of those sites here.

Some of the searches involve paying a company to do the search. To find lost life insurance policies, for example, MIB Solutions charges $75 to search (click here).

But be careful about fees, especially if you find out about the lost property through a company that contacts you directly. Several firms use the states' freedom of information acts to get information about owners of missing property, then notify them they’ll do the search for a fee.

“The majority of firms that provide these services work within the law, but there are also many unclaimed property scams across the United States,” warns the NAUPA on its website. “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.”

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