Q: I think I may have some old money market accounts, but I misplaced the original paperwork. Is there a way to find out if those accounts still exist?
A: Unclaimed property describes accounts in financial institutions and companies that have had no activity or account holder contact for one year or more. This can include savings or checking accounts, refunds, customer overpayments, contents of safe deposit boxes, etc.
To begin searching for lost property, check legitimate sites like missingmoney.com, which is endorsed by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. This site has official records of unclaimed property from every state and most U.S. territories, plus Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec in Canada. Check for property in every jurisdiction in which you have resided. It is free to search; however, you may have to pay a small fee to obtain the property.
According to NAUPA, there are many businesses (sometimes called finders or locators) that find legitimate lost property for owners and inform them how to obtain it for a fee, usually a percentage of the total (some states limit the fee to 10 percent). Sometimes, companies will hire these firms to find you before they turn the funds over to the state. Ultimately the finder will ask you to sign a contract.
The majority of firms that provide these services work within the law, but there are also some unclaimed property scams around. Before signing any contract, BBB recommends caution. If you are unsure that the firm is legitimate, contact your BBB or the unclaimed property office in your state for more information.
To prevent accumulating unclaimed property, NAUPA suggests the following tips:
• Deposit or cash all checks for dividends, wages, insurance settlements, etc. without delay.
• Respond to legitimate requests for confirmation of account balances and stockholder proxies.
• If you have a safe deposit box, record its number, bank name and address, and give the extra key to a trusted person.
• Prepare and file a will detailing the disposition of your assets.
For more information on how to recover unclaimed property, check out unclaimed.org/what/. For additional consumer tips, please visit bbb.org.
Get answers to your questions each Friday from Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN, 37401-1447, or by e-mailing him at dflessner@ timesfree press.com.