We wonder sometimes if we should have a regular, recurring forum dedicated to the many ways scoundrels abuse operations designed to help people.
The most recent addition would be websites that pervert Missouri's Unclaimed Property process, which attempts to link unclaimed property to its rightful owners at no charge.
State Treasurer Clint Zweifel, whose office oversees Unclaimed Property, recently warned Missourians to be wary of third-party websites offering help for a fee. He also cautioned those sites could jeopardize the privacy of personal information.
"I receive many calls every year from Missourians who have been duped by websites claiming to help them retrieve their Unclaimed Property for a fee," Zweifel said. "Missourians should always check ShowMeMoney.com first when looking for Unclaimed Property. I will never charge you to return your property or put your personal information at risk."
Missouri law requires financial institutions, insurance companies, public agencies and other businesses to turn over assets to the state treasurer if there have been no documented transactions or contact with a customer, client, employee or other owner after a statutorily-defined period of time, generally five years. Most Unclaimed Property consists of cash from bank accounts, stocks, bonds and contents of safe deposit boxes that have been abandoned.
Unclaimed Property is hardly a small-scale operation. The treasurer protects more than $822 million in unclaimed assets for more than 4.8 million account owners. In Fiscal Year 2014, the office returned a record $40 million to more than 170,000 Unclaimed Property accounts.
As part of a periodic process, the treasurer's office recently placed notices in newspapers statewide. The notices listed the names of individuals, businesses and nonprofits eligible to claim property held by the state.
In the aftermath of those notices, the emergence of websites requesting a fee prompted the treasurer to issue his caution. Zweifel's advisory included this invitation to Missourians: "If you have questions about these websites or need help claiming your Unclaimed Property, please email my office at email@example.com."
Unclaimed Property is a service of state government that you already pay for, as a taxpayer.
Don't be duped by bogus claims.