SYS-CON MEDIA Authors: Elizabeth White, Sean Houghton, Glenn Rossman, Ignacio M. Llorente, Xenia von Wedel

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New Law Protects Pennsylvanians Recovering Lost Money and Items

Unclaimed Property "Finders" Will Be Subject to State Approval and Oversight

HARRISBURG, PA--(Marketwired - August 04, 2014) - At the urging of state Treasurer Rob McCord, legislation enacted this month will guard Pennsylvanians against fraud and deceptive practices when they employ a service to help them claim their money or property that has been turned over to the state.

With changes made through the Fiscal Code bill (Act 126 of 2014), new sections were added to the state's unclaimed property law allowing the Treasury to oversee those who for a fee assist others in locating and recovering unclaimed property -- commonly known as "finders." People engaging in that business will be required to apply for approval, register, and remain subject to Treasury oversight. McCord stressed that Pennsylvanians, businesses and other organization can always claim their property for free directly from the state Treasury Department.

"The vast majority of finders operate within the law, and they can provide a valuable service to some people who may either not know they have unclaimed property, or need help to retrieve it," McCord said. "Unfortunately, however, a relative few take advantage of those who are not fully aware of their rights."

Under long-standing Pennsylvania law, finders are permitted to charge up to 15 percent of the amount they help to claim. Treasury has regularly seen instances, however, of some finders charging a higher percentage, illegally adding additional fees on top of the allowable percentage, or fraudulently claiming the money or property themselves and passing only a small portion on to the rightful owner.

"We've seen some heartbreaking examples of people who desperately could have used the money they had coming to them, but instead sacrificed an excessively large share of it to an unscrupulous finder," McCord said.

McCord reiterated that for no charge, anyone can contact the state Treasury to check if they have unclaimed property, and initiate a claim. They can do so by visiting www.patreasury.gov or by calling toll free at 1-800-222-2046 Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. where a member of Treasury's Return Team will assist them.

Actions of some finders operating outside the law have required Treasury investigators and legal staff to invest considerable time and resources aiding and protecting citizens who have been defrauded, including making court appearances on some occasions. Often, Treasury staff has been forced to pursue cases that involve repeat offenders. McCord approached the legislature this year with suggested remedies that would permit Treasury to crack down on illegal operators while not heavily burdening those who abide by the law.

Under the new provisions, no person may act as a finder without first applying for and receiving a certificate of registration with the state Treasury. When submitting an application, finders will have to attest under penalty of perjury that they have not been convicted of a felony or certain other criminal offenses within 10 years and that they are not under investigation for such crimes, and agree to a background check to verify the information. Treasury will issue a registration certificate and number valid for two years, after which registration can be renewed. Treasury can also revoke, suspend or refuse to renew a registration under certain conditions and after due process. Finders violating the law will be subject to fines of up to $1,000 for a first offense and up to $5,000 for a subsequent offense. (More detail about the new sections of the law can be viewed here.)

Under the unclaimed property law, which was first enacted in 1929, Treasury each year receives millions of dollars in unclaimed property in the form of abandoned bank accounts, forgotten stocks, unclaimed insurance benefits, uncashed checks, contents of safe deposit boxes, and other sources of money or tangible items. 

Since January 2009, the McCord Treasury has received $1.3 billion in property and returned more than $572 million to rightful owners.

For more information, visit www.patreasury.gov.

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