A reader visited a website that says he's owed $19,887,000 in unclaimed lottery winnings, and that they'll hook him up for a fee. Here's where he should go instead, and you should, too.
Here’s this week’s reader question:
Dear Stacy, My name is John. I checked to see if I had unclaimed money and found I have $19,887,000 out there. It is supposed to be from a lottery I won. I cannot find out where it is from or who has it and I cannot afford to pay someone to get it for me. How can I get my money for free? And who has it?
Before I answer John’s question, here’s a video I did last year that’s right up his alley. It’s called “Don’t Pay to Find Lost Money.”
Now to John’s question.
One of the most common scams these days is foreign lotteries and contests. Unfortunately, they often target older folks, with devastating results. The way the scam works is that the crook will notify the intended victim by phone, email or snail mail that they’ve won a contest or lottery. The only catch? They have to send in money to claim their prize.
One of the saddest stories I’ve done in recent years was about the elderly victim of such a scam who lost nearly her entire life savings. You can check it out here.
But that’s not what happened to John. I wrote him back to ask where he discovered this unclaimed prize, as well as where he had been playing the lottery. He responded:
The website was unclaimedmoney.com. I don’t remember what lottos I have played or where.
Unclaimed lottery prizes
According to CNN Money, every year $800 million goes unclaimed in state and multistate lotteries. While most unclaimed prizes are small, some aren’t. Some are million-dollar tickets.
While many types of unclaimed money revert to the state and stay there indefinitely until claimed, this isn’t true of lotteries. Rules vary by state but, according to CNN Money, most give you only three to 12 months to cash in your winning tickets. After that, the money is lost.
If John really thinks he may have an unclaimed lottery prize, he shouldn’t pay anyone to find it. He should call the state lottery office in any states where he’s played the lottery. Soon.
And he should ask himself this question: When he buys lottery tickets, he doesn’t provide his name, address or any other information. So how could a website possibly know he’d won a lottery?
Where to find other unclaimed money
There are dozens of websites promising to help you search for and claim missing money in exchange for a fee. Some may be an outright rip-off. Others may be just trying to make money by doing something you can easily do yourself. Which kind is unclaimedmoney.com? I don’t know and don’t care. Because unclaimedmoney.com isn’t the place to find unclaimed money any more than freecreditreport.com is the place to get a free credit report.
If you want a free credit report, go to AnnualCreditReport.com. If you want to find missing money, go to unclaimed.org. That’s the site run by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. From there, choose your location and you’ll be redirected to your state’s online money search. Enter a few personal tidbits and in seconds you’ll see a list of what you’re owed. NAUPA also maintains a database at MissingMoney.com.
You can also find unclaimed property on other sites like:
- Unclaimed Money from the Government – shows you where to find unclaimed pension money, tax refunds, mortgage insurance refunds and more.
- TreasuryDirect Treasure Hunt – finds matured bonds issued after 1974.
- FDIC Unclaimed Funds – search for money owed by failed banks.
- SEC Old Stock and Bond Certificates – not an online search, but does provide information on replacing a missing stock certificate.
Don’t use any site other than these and don’t use any pay site or service, ever.
What might be missing?
A missing property search can find money from a variety of sources, including:
- Matured and uncollected bonds.
- Uncollected pension checks.
- Rebate checks from retailers or manufacturers.
- Leftover money from failed banks or closed accounts.
- Earnings from stocks.
- Insurance checks.
Whenever a company or some other entity that owes you can’t find you, the law requires it to turn the money over to the state. If you think no one owes you anything, you might be surprised.
As you saw in the video above, I found I was entitled to a $150 rebate. When I looked it up online, it hit me: I had a bought a computer years ago that came with a rebate. I applied for it, but moved shortly thereafter. A few months went by and it slipped my mind completely.
What you’ll need
To find out if there’s unclaimed money in your name, you’ll need to provide some basic personal information such as your full name and ZIP code and perhaps a previous address.
Getting the money will require submitting a form, which you can download and print. Once you mail the form, you should receive a check. However, your state agency may require documentation proving you are who you say you are, especially if you’re seeking a large amount. Identification documents could include a state-issued ID, birth certificate, or proof of address, such as a lease, utility bill or letter from a landlord.
I was initially stymied when I tried to claim my $150 rebate check, because the state requested proof of the old address from which I had originally applied for it. I had nothing left with that address on it. I called them and explained the situation. They told me not to worry, that it happens all the time. Just send us a letter saying you don’t have anything and we’ll send you the check, they said. I did and they did.
The ending was happy for me, albeit not $20 million worth of happy. As for John, color me skeptical. While I hope he’ll soon be a rich man, my more immediate hope is that he won’t be made poorer by paying some site that’s either going to rip him off or charge him to do something he can do himself.
Now, dear reader, I know what you’re about to do. You’re about to go to unclaimed.org and see if you’ve got money out there looking for you. Fine. But when you do, please come back here or go to our Facebook page and tell us what happened. Did you strike out? Find a buck or two? If so, are you buying drinks tonight?
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The questions I’m likeliest to answer are those that will interest other readers. In other words, don’t ask for super-specific advice that applies only to you. And if I don’t get to your question, promise not to hate me. I do my best, but I get a lot more questions than I have time to answer.
Stacy Johnson founded Money Talks News in 1991. He’s earned a CPA (now inactive), and has also been licensed in stocks, commodities, options principal, mutual funds, life insurance, securities supervisor and real estate.You can learn more about him here.