Unclaimed Money Scams to Watch Out For

Who says no to money? What if you could get it for free with no catch?  Most people would believe it’s a scam.

Although it’s unlikely to happen, you may find any of these cases:

  • Someone loses money, then someone else finds it, but nobody claims it. The cash belongs to nobody.
  • You get a tax refund/benefit from the government (financial help).
  • You invested in a stock and found high returns later. Free money.
  • You played the lottery and won.

What they have in common is, you first need to participate to have a chance to get unclaimed money. If you have never participated, then any claim of you having unclaimed money should be viewed as highly suspicious.

Think about it: why would a stranger warn you about “unclaimed rewards?” Goodwill? Wouldn’t they rather keep the money for themselves? If you do deserve more money, why precisely now?

Most unclaimed money promises sound too good to be true. Variations of the scheme are also known as Nigerian scams.

What Is Unclaimed Money Fraud

Unclaimed money scams stand for the confidence tricks scammers use to lure victims to either steal their money or identity. It reminds us of the advance fee scam because the person follows some steps for a reward they’ve never seen.

But isn’t a scam common sense if they can’t prove you the deal? The catch is if you need money, you think irrationally because of greed. “I want to believe it’s true.”

Strictly, unclaimed money refers to the money you own but didn’t collect. You can’t take someone else’s funds unless you can prove your identity and permission.

But unclaimed money doesn’t necessarily come from the Government. It includes lottery tickets, inheritances, cash-back rewards, and benefit programs.

Is Unclaimed Money Worth It?

You desperately need money, and someone offers it for a low risk. You may afford to lose, but nobody guarantees that you’ll get the funds (other than the scammer).

Many get into it because you just pay a few hundred to collect thousands of dollars. Sometimes, you pay nothing at all but register on some website to “prove your identity.” So they follow the con man instructions.

No matter the promise, the victim always ends up with less money than they started.

  • The scammer takes their upfront fee and vanishes
  • The scammer steals bank information and clears their accounts

Whenever you trade money for money, you should pay attention to:

  • The payment method (see payment fraud)
  • Who is making the deal, not the deal itself
  • The facts, not promises. How do you know the unclaimed money is real?

Unclaimed Money: Warning Signs Of A Scam

You can’t just blindly trust anybody who has what you want. Some people use it as a hook and hide their real intentions. Once you check for the following red flags, you’ll see how many offers are fraudulent— and why real unclaimed money is hard to find.

#1 They want you to say “Yes”

Who would say no to no-catch free money? Not only you wouldn’t: scammers neither give you that chance. They put so much emotion on the hook to the point where rejecting money is more painful than moving forward.

If you’re pressured to take it and can’t say no, it’s too good to be true. As a stranger who doesn’t benefit from the money, it makes no sense. “I don’t want to let you miss out on this opportunity?” But what’s in it for them?

#2 The money belongs to someone else

The con man shows you money that someone lost or forgot to collect— which still doesn’t give you any rights to claim it.

However, the scammer will let you take it if you prove your identity. They ask either for registration or your credit card. And if the money found appears as a check, they’ll ask for goodwill money afterward.

Think about it: a con man approaches you for an offer anybody can qualify with a simple payment. Why you precisely? The person could claim it himself: scam alert.

#3 They need upfront payment

You need to pay to get paid. Con men will recommend cash or wire transfer, so you can’t undo your transaction. After you pay, they have no obligation to keep their word.

To avoid rip-offs, ask for alternative payment methods. Make them prove the money they claim to have, especially when dealing in person. Know some basic payment tricks to recognize potential scams, such as the pigeon drop.

If you get pay-to-collect emails from unknown contacts, delete them and move on.

#4 They use phishing tactics

Everything makes sense in the letter, but the way they communicate doesn’t. You find:

  • Multiple grammar errors and misspellings (in the domain URL, for example)
  • An unexpected reward program you shouldn’t qualify/didn’t join
  • An unknown/misspelled email address
  • An urgent call to click the link below
  • A disguised link with Bit.ly, Ouo.io, and similar
  • They want you to register or log in a page, even if you’re visiting a well-known site with an existing account

Unfortunately, the unclaimed money promise is the hook of a sneaky phishing attack. After you enter your data (or just visit the site), the scammer has vanished with your access data.

If you find a shortened link, you know they’re hiding something. Luckily, some pages revert link shortening and show you where you redirect before you click.

#5 You didn’t claim it

If the money to claim isn’t yours, ask yourself why the owner didn’t claim it. Perhaps he forgot about the funds or never got any warnings about it.

Whether you find unclaimed money or someone owns you an amount, it’s your responsibility to claim it. Very rarely, people will message you about “pending funds to collect,” especially if you never met those people.

Be aware if the only step to claim money is to enter information like a credit card. Then, anybody with such data could claim it, and the unclaimed fund’s notification loses its sense. A scammer won’t warn you about pending money when he can’t collect it for himself.

Variations Of Unclaimed Money Scams

#1 Pay To Claim

You received a large sum of money. But you can’t “unlock” it unless you pay a minor amount first. The person asking for the fee will ask for money for goodwill, verification purposes, or collateral.

Just as hard as it is to make money for nothing, claiming unclaimed money leads to scams most of the time. After you give them what they want and you get the right to claim it, scammers will vanish with the upfront fee.

Don’t think you can fool them with payments, because they only accept one-way methods: wire transfer, cash, or bitcoin.

#2 IRS Tax Return

When you overpay on taxes, the IRS may send you money back to cover the difference. One day, you find a wire-transfer and more money in your bank account, perhaps also a letter from the institution. 

Not all IRS messages come from the IRS.

If offering free money wasn’t enough, offering owed money will catch people’s attention. People don’t know what to expect of offerings that look too good to be true. If the money is already yours, it can’t be a scam, right?

It’s easy to con people with the excuse of protecting their money rather than promising more. For example, you find a (fake) check from the IRS worth $1000:

“You must send $100 to this US Treasury address within one week, or this check will cancel.”

Whether you pay or not, the check will bounce back. You may also have sent money to a scammer posing as the IRS or Treasury.

Here’s more about check scams and how to avoid them.

#3 Lottery Scam

You get another suspicious message about lottery winnings. This time, the letter looks legit and gives clear instructions on how to claim the winnings. 

The letter may tell you to keep it secret so that other players don’t steal your prize. But this measure only prevents others from warning you about the scam.

All you do is send a processing fee, complete the sign-up, and wait X business days. Wait until the crook logs into your bank account and clears the funds.

Use common sense: you can’t claim a reward for a program you didn’t participate in. If you can claim with just a credit card, then anybody with a credit card can do it. If it was real, the scammer would take the prize instead: that notice is a phishing/confidence trick.

Learn more in our complete guide to confidence tricks.

#4 Pigeon Drop Scams

The problem with unclaimed money is, they’re (almost) never real. Now, what if you see the money in front of you? Would it be worth paying for? You’d better watch it like a hawk because the con man will switch it for fake cash once you distract.

Understand people simply don’t exchange ten dollars for a dollar. Plus, not everything that looks like money (checks, money orders, cash, P2P transfers) actually is it.

The con man will give you the money bag and then ask for goodwill/collateral as he goes to consult an advisor to unlock the funds. You can’t use the bag money until the advisor gives the green light to claim it, so you use your wallet/credit card.

Somewhere in the middle, the con men switch bags and offer you the fake one. After you pay, they walk away.

Take a look at how pigeon drop scams work here.

#5 Item Found

“Is this item yours, sir?”

You’ll find this one as a travel scam, which still categorizes as unclaimed property.

A scammer will drop a shiny object on the street on purpose— jewelry, for example. When you walk nearby, he collects it and asks whether it’s yours.

He will now start talking about how valuable it is, and he’ll offer it to you for less than $100.

“If you sell it in your country, you’ll make a great return!”

But the con man is selling a cheap piece of plastic. If you bait, you just spent dozens of dollars for no value.

#6 Unclaimed Investing Funds

You may have heard those amazing stories. Many years ago, someone invested a couple of hundred dollars on an inactive stock for fun. Since it never makes any progress, they forget about it, until one day, they get a notice from their exchange.

“The $700 you invested has turned into $2,463,000. When would you like to retire?”

Although these stories exist, you must have previously invested to reap the benefits. If you get such messages but never invested in your life, it’s a scammer playing with your memories.

Perhaps a familiar did it for you, or you invested so long ago that you won’t remember. In any case, a legit exchange site requires you to log in, confirm your movements, and you can cash out the amount. 

A fraudulent email may try to steal your information or take an upfront fee from you (and the unclaimed funds never existed). 

Lastly, if you invested money, your platform sends performance reports monthly. You must be really busy to not see the notices. If you never got any, it could be an imposter.

Guide to Securities Fraud And Investing.

Preventing The Scam: How To Get Unclaimed Money (Without Risking Your Own)

If you never requested unclaimed funds before, you won’t know what looks legit and what doesn’t. To reclaim the money, you visit a website like unclaimed.org and look for a match. If you find money owed to you, you fill up a form and receive it quickly.

Searching and claiming money is free. Nobody who asks you to pay to get paid will give you money: it’s a ruse. If you do need to pay, at least choose a method with payment protection.

Know what could go wrong. One may want to register on some site to get free unclaimed money. What we may not know is that, by giving that information, we’re risking all our savings with identity theft. Not only you don’t get paid. Scammers make your bank account theirs.

Know who’s paying you. You should only share sensitive data if you know you’re visiting a government site. If an imposter fakes a domain, you could give the right data to the wrong people. 

Before getting excited about your unclaimed money, verify the identity of the one sending you that notice. If you phone the office employees and nobody knows anything about it, it’s a fake.

Putting It Together

Although you can receive unclaimed money, you shouldn’t look at it as an income opportunity. Scammers may say to owe you tens of thousands of dollars when you didn’t spend/made that much.

As a rule of thumb, do your research about what money they owe you: don’t expect the Treasury to email you like scammers want to make you believe.

There’re other ways to get extra cash by claiming money:

  • Cash-back reward programs
  • Check benefit programs you may not know you qualify for
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