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Ask Stacy: How can I claim my $20M lottery prize?

A reader visited a website that says he's owed millions in unclaimed lottery winnings, and that they'll hook him up for a fee. Here's where he should go instead.

By MSN Money Partner Jul 29, 2014 12:43PM

This post comes from Stacy Johnson at partner site Money Talks News.


Money Talks News on MSN MoneyHere'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?

One of the most common scams these days is foreign lotteries and contests.

Lottery Tickets © Scott Speakes, Corbis

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:

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 and tell us what happened. Did you strike out? Find a buck or two? If so, are you buying drinks tonight?


More from Money Talks News

46Comments
Jul 29, 2014 3:35PM
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I'm stating to think that Nigerian prince lied to me.
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he should go get his head examined as he's apparently not smart enough to see a scam. i bet his PC is full of viruses from clicking crap like that.
Jul 29, 2014 3:44PM
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I sell bridges and lottery tickets you would be amazed how many buyers there are!
Jul 29, 2014 5:54PM
Jul 29, 2014 3:53PM
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Fcuk the lottery

I would rather invest in magic beans

or Jim Beam

 

Jul 29, 2014 2:08PM
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Oh! just call up the state and tell em ya misplaced your ticket. Sure they will hand it out too ya.
Jul 29, 2014 8:29PM
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You mean my "Friend" traveling in Europe who asked for a money-wired $2500 loan......really didn't have their traveler's checks and credit cards stolen?????
Jul 29, 2014 7:46PM
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when they call just say...look hillary i know you and billly are broke...but this is just wrong...
Jul 29, 2014 7:03PM
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Tell them that you're home bound with no banking accounts,but you have cash and if they were to come to your home you would gladly take care of them. he he he
Jul 30, 2014 11:27AM
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miss the old days of being able to comment on all the articles...guess msn seen that the lies they print weren''t fooling all people...oh well it is what it is...
Jul 29, 2014 9:53PM
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I work for the California Unclaimed Property Division and this article is absolutely correct.  That website, Unclaimedmoney.com is a sham.  Many, many people pay the fee and are given a "property" that is not theirs.

All states have their own unclaimed property division and can assist you in finding any money owed.  Also, there are "investigator" or "finder" companies that are legit, but in California they can charge you 10% of any money claimed.

You can negotiate this to a lessor amount but it is illegal for them to charge you more than 10%.  

But try getting it yourself first. It's relatively easy and the companies really don't do that much "work" for you.
Jul 29, 2014 10:54PM
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My mother-in-law tracks down people with unclaimed money and informs them on how to claim it as a hobby.  She always has interesting stories about the people she has met. Some even come out to her house to meet her and many send he some thank you money.
Jul 29, 2014 4:18PM
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Imagine what a buck could do

Like make you Jones about winning so bad you start imagining you did win and lost your ticket then think you can claim unclaimed money  


Jul 29, 2014 11:23PM
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I was the lucky one, I was able to sell my house and use the $180,000 to pay the Bursar off for the United Kingdom Global Lottery. I'm just waiting any day now for the 24 million British Pounds to be routed to my bank account. You snooze, you lose.
Jul 30, 2014 4:53AM
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Complete scam.  What this guy needs to realize is that if he does send these clowns a check to find his "prize", that he's opening himself up to potential criminal liability.  He'll most likely receive a check from these people.  He'll probably be instructed to deposit the check into his bank account.  He may even be asked for his account number and routing number because they'll need it for some sort of tax or fee.  The minute that dummy check hits his account, it becomes live money until it bounces. If they have his account number and routing number, they can pull that money out of his account before the dummy check bounces.  Once that happens, the bank is looking to nail someone for money laundering, and that someone will be him.
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So I really don't have a rich Uncle Wilbur??
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If Obama has his way, every future US lottery winner will have to give half their winnings to some family in Kenya, and that's after federal and state taxes, and if you're a white middle aged male, half your paycheck and retirement too for good measure, or as he would put it, for social justice.
Jul 29, 2014 2:20PM
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If you've got time on your hands, which most of you reading this do, check the unclaimed property web sites for every state.  The reason I say this is that even if you don't live in a state or have never stepped foot in it, you may have money in that state just waiting for you to inquire and it will be given to you.  The explanation is simple and yet so few people know about this.  When a company has unclaimed property, they are required by law to send it to the unclaimed property division of the state where they originally incorporated, so for example, if you used a branch of a company that has more than one branch, that branch has to send your money to the Department of Revenue in the state where they incorporated, not the state where you did business.  So if you didn't cash a check that was issued in the State of Florida, the money might be waiting for you in the State of Delaware.  Take the time to check all fifty states to see if they have money in your name.  If you have a common name, don't think you will be given somebody else's money.  It doesn't work that way.  John Smith can't request and be given money belonging to a different John Smith.  You still have to prove you are the correct owner, but it might be worth your time to check, not only your neighboring states, but also the other fifty even if you never stepped foot in them.  You may have pension money that was distributed to all employees after you left your job; you may have an unused gift certificate, or an uncleared check.  It is a better use of your time than most of these articles.  I can assure you of that.
Jul 29, 2014 7:19PM
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just tell them you send a un-documented alien to pick up the check...they don't pay taxes...THANKS OBUMMER...
Jul 30, 2014 1:32PM
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Well, we all know he didn't win the money. But what we ALL  are 100% sure of is, he definitely voted for OBAMA!

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