Unclaimed money scam resurfaces in multiple states

Scammers consistently look for ways to swindle people. Sometimes, the thieves will fall back on old scams with a new “face lift” or twist to the scheme. Other times, they will create entirely new methods of ways to trick and lure people in to giving up information that enables them to steal from unsuspecting victims.

In August 2011, media outlets reported thieves targeting unsuspecting victims in hopes of convincing them there are millions of dollars waiting for them in overseas accounts. Basically, these criminals wanted to access personal information that could be used to pilfer money from targeted victims. Scammers also seek to get their victims to share personal information that could be used for illicit financial gain and theft, and aiming at bank accounts, either directly or indirectly.

David Goodman, Director of the Ohio Department of Commerce, warned residents an email scam was circulating that purportedly came from the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), which included his department’s Division of Unclaimed Funds. The emails informed recipients “they have international unclaimed funds worth millions in cash.” The email tries to make the message sound official by claiming an FBI agent has “vetted the matter.”

People who respond are told they need to contact an overseas attorney and/or send personal information to the sender and this is where the scam kicks in.

“Pure and simple – this is a scam. We will not have Ohioans ripped off by taking advantage of our unclaimed funds program that returns Ohioans’ hard-earned money to the rightful owners,” Director Goodman said, reported FOX 19.

West Virginians were also recently targeted with a similar scam that was circulating in Ohio. According to WHSV News, State Treasurer John D. Perdue warned West Virginia residents to be aware of this new email scam.

Reportedly, residents had been receiving emails that advised the recipients they have millions of dollars of unclaimed property. The scammers claim to be Jeff Smith, Director of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), but no such emails are going out.

About the scam Perdue said, “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.”

In West Virginia claim recipients will never be directed to a third party.

On the other side of the U.S., Nevada residents are also receiving these scam emails, but with a slight twist. Fox News 5 in Las Vegas reported, “According to State Treasurer Kate Marshall, victims in the scam receive emails from the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators detailing an abandoned package they have that belongs to them. The messenger urges the person to call the “agency” to claim the package.”

Recipients of the fraudulent email that call the phone number end up calling an international line from which they’ll be slammed with high fees.

These three scams were all announced in or around Aug. 3, however, many more states are also reporting similar scams targeting information and/or charging excessive phone call fees. Missouri, Oklahoma and Maryland are amongst the states which began reporting incidents around Aug. 9.

In Pennsylvania, WPXI reported on Aug. 9 a “bogus email [was] making the rounds.” Much like the others, this email claims to come from an official agency, however, this scam says the recipient has inherited $2.8 million in cash from an abandoned shipment left at Hartsfield International Airport.

The email asks intended victims for their name, address, telephone number and occupation, enough information to try and attempt illicit financial gain.  These recipients have been directed to call an attorney in the United Kingdom.

Rick Wallace, security expert for Tiversa, told WPXI, “thieves don’t ask for any money in the initial emails, they will ask for it later.” Wallace indicated the scammers also may aim to obtain Social Security numbers as well. After contact has been established, thieves will target bank accounts indirectly by asking for fees or other personal information that can be utilized for theft.

Oklahoma’s State Treasurer Ken Miller said, “This is nothing but a scam,” adding, “Those behind this email fraud are not looking to return any money; they want to trick the recipient into disclosing personal financial information.”

Chances are these scams will continue to perpetuate and spread to other states as well. If you are the recipient of one of these emails, do not respond, but delete and/or report to the proper authorities. You can also report these emails to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Update April 7, 2014: These, or similar, scams continue to surface on a routine basis. In 2013 a number of unclaimed funds scams appeared in multiple states. States reporting incidents included Nevada, Missouri and Virginia, to name a few. If you think you might have unclaimed funds, it is best to go through official channels you seek out yourself. NAUPA provides additional information.