August 16, 2011 -- A new scam has surfaced that uses the promise of finding unclaimed money to lure people in. I feel just the tiniest smidgen responsible, because our "Good Morning America" series "Show Me the Money" has awakened people to all of the different kinds of unclaimed funds that are out there and the very real possibility that money could be waiting for YOU. However, this cynical swindle is over-the-top and that's the first tip-off.
The scam arrives in email form, with a message telling people they have "millions of dollars" in unclaimed property waiting, according to West Virginia state treasurer John Perdue. The fraudulent message purports to come from Jeff Smith of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, but it's a fraud. NAUPA is a real organization of unclaimed property chiefs from around the country, but it does not have control over any actual money --much less the authority to dole it out to people.
"My office has worked diligently over the years to return unclaimed funds to rightful owners. It is very disturbing to know scam artists are trying to exploit our hard work and take advantage of those people who trust the state to return their money," said Perdue.
Nevada, Maryland, Louisiana and Ohio have also heard from citizens who received the false email. The crooks make their money by tricking people into calling an overseas toll telephone number to retrieve their supposed funds, then using various schemes to keep them on the line as long as possible.
Mary Pitman, a staunch advocate of searching for missing money on your own and author of "The Little Book of Missing Money," offers these five sure signs that somebody contacting you about unclaimed money is illegitimate:
1. It comes as an email. State unclaimed property offices do not use email to contact you. They simply don't have that information. It's too hard to verify that the email is truly yours.
2. It claims to be from the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. NAUPA is an organization that unclaimed property administrators belong to. NAUPA does not do anything with reuniting people with their missing money.
3. You get referred to someone else. State treasurers and comptrollers normally oversee unclaimed money and property. The work is never outsourced.
4. You're asked for your bank account information. You may have to supply personal information such as your social security number to make a legitimate unclaimed money claim, but you will NEVER be asked your bank account information.
5. There is a fee to file the claim. State governments do not charge money for searching their database of unclaimed accounts or for making a claim.
So how DO you search for REAL unclaimed money that may be waiting out there for you? Click here to read the GMA Unclaimed Money guide we have compiled and stay tuned as we uncover more repositories of unclaimed funds and share them with you on Good Morning America in the coming weeks.