Missingmoney.com looks like a nice collaborative effort among states doing everything they possibly can to return missing money (also called unclaimed property) to its rightful owner (maybe you).
By law states arrange for unclaimed property to be held securely and they try to find the owners. And each state maintains a searchable database so users can see if uncashed checks, forgotten bank accounts, or other valuable property may be held in their name.
Since most folks move at least once in their life people may have “missing money” in more than one state – and often in several. It makes sense that states would get together and provide a central location where anyone can find what is rightfully theirs regardless of what state it may be in. On the face of it this is what missingmoney.com does. Dig deeper, however, and you discover something of a Missing Money Mystery. We explore it below based on the following questions:
- Who owns missingmoney.com?
- Why is missingmoney.com the only entity officially endorsed by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators?
- Who is really making money from your missing money?
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Sites like missingmoney.com are necessary because too many states don’t make a big effort to find rightful owners. And even when they can easily find them, some states don’t even allow their Controller to contact people! Delaware, according to a Wall Street Journal report in 2008, returns less than 5% of the unclaimed property it holds. West Virginia, on the other hand, is very aggressive about returning funds, and some states even set up booths at county fairs to increase awareness and try to find owners.
All the major news networks seem to love to start out new years with features about missing money and how you can find it. And it appears that they are all singing the same tune: they say that missingmoney.com is the best place to start. And while they have gotten better about telling you that not all states participate in this database, they leave a few things out. First, they do not advise viewers that this is not a government website. While this database operates in partnership with states, it is privately owned. And they owners and states may benefit financially from your use of the site. There are ads on the site and many users could mistakenly believe that these are all government approved since it gives that appearance… They even offer you links to click that will supposedly show you a message from your government, or offer you a consumer bulletin. Those messages tend to actually be just basic information, but they do tend to further the impression that this is in fact a government site — which it is not. Just important for you to realize since the do show ads which you should not assume are government approved or guaranteed. Read on to find out who actually owns Missing Money.
First – if you are unclear about what “unclaimed property” means, check out Free Unclaimed Money. And discover how to find your unclaimed money in our article on that topic. If you are considering buying Kevin Trudeau's book that is supposedly a “tell all” about free money, definitely read our review of Trudeau's book first!
To look at the home page of missingmoney.com one would naturally assume that it is owned and run by the government. The banner at the top of the page states in bold type: “State and provincial governments working together to safeguard and return your lost funds.” The logo of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (a nonprofit group of state officials involved in the administration of unclaimed property) is prominently displayed next to that statement. It seems that this must be a government site, and probably part of the NAUPA.
In fact if you follow the trail this is not a government site – though many states do participate. Missingmoney.com is owned by the Unclaimed Property Clearinghouse (UPCH), a private company. UPCH in turn is a subsidiary of Affiliated Computer Services, Inc. (ACS). And ACS — stay with us – is owned by Xerox Corporation. Does this explain the exclusive endorsement? An exclusive endorsement is a big deal!
You might think that missingmoney.com gets an exclusive endorsement because it has proven itself to be the only site worthy of such an award. According to Resource Shelf, ACS (the owner of missingmoney.com) pays the NAUPA an annual royalty in return for the exclusive right to use their endorsement, their name and their logo on the site.
Now there is nothing wrong with an organization making a business decision to endorse another business that they believe offers them a major benefit. But we wonder if that is the case here. The states’ proclaimed objective is to return unclaimed property to its owners. Yet by giving one organization not only an exclusive endorsement but also exclusive use of its database, the NAUPA restricts access and probably diminishes the likelihood and speed of unclaimed property being returned. Yes it may be more efficient to be able to search multiple states at once but the effectiveness is questionable since not all states participate. And even those that do don’t provide all their records.
So next we have to follow the money:
The States: Though it is their requirement and their universally stated goal to return as much unclaimed property as fast as possible, one has to wonder. We are talking millions and billions of dollars here (for example, $300 million currently held by Kentucky, $12 billion by New York…). The states – always strapped budget-wise – earn interest on that money. They have come a long way from simply publishing notices in state newspapers about unclaimed property (have you ever seen one?) and now maintain digital databases you can search. But how well known is this fact? Have you ever seen a billboard, or a message on the side of a bus encouraging you to come find your money?
Unless we are missing something, the states’ efforts seem pretty passive: build a database and they will come. The state and the IRS certainly have extensive data on all of us – surely some of this could be leveraged to proactively seek out the rightful owners of billions of dollars.
UPCH, ACS Inc. & Xerox In a 2013 interview, a senior vice-president of Xerox State & Local Services Inc. (which operates UPCH) hailed missingmoney.com as a “major achievement” and a “free service” that they and the states offer in their continuing efforts to find the owners of unclaimed property.
He did not mention the facts that:
- The site gives the appearance of being a government site, endorsed by a government entity.
- The home page shows prominently displayed ads. And while the viewer might assume that these ads must also be endorsed by the states via the NAUPA, the tiny little print at the very bottom of the page states that no such endorsement is implied.
- The owners of websites get paid whenever a user clicks an ad. The senior executive quoted above said that in the previous year (2012) almost seven million people conducted 63 million searches on the site. If only 10% of those searches resulted in an ad being clicked, the income probably exceeded $4-10 million, perhaps by a lot. Not bad for having exclusive rights to offer a free service, with the contents provided by the states.
In addition to the money the website owners (Xerox) make via advertisements on the site, the states also pay to be included on the site. An article in the Minnesota Tribune states that Minnesota – which is holding over $600 million in unclaimed property and no longer does any mailings to potential owners – pays $10,300 in order to participate.
You may find it useful to use missingmoney.com to check for unclaimed property in more than one site. But be aware that any ads that you see do not carry a government endorsement. And you will probably have to go to each individual state in question in order to get complete records. The states are probably well intentioned as well as understaffed. But it’s clear that Unclaimed Property has become an industry and the rightful owners of the property are not the ones making the most money on it…