Politics & Government

Companies want to charge you to reclaim your lost cash. But you can do it for free, SC officials say

Companies want to charge you a fee to help you get your money from the state government — that is, if you don’t figure out first that you can do it for free.

Private companies are seeking out and charging S.C. residents, businesses and public agencies with unclaimed cash held in a state fund waiting to be discovered.

At least four companies — Personal Asset Recovery LLC, Legal Recovery Service, U.S. Funds Recovery and ProLocators — are using the publicly available South Carolina Unclaimed Property database to track down residents who may have money sitting in the fund and charge them a fee to help file a claim, according to records from the Treasurer’s Office.

Those companies often charge a fee sometimes up to 15% of the the money they find for a customer.

But filing a claim is free through the S.C. Treasurer’s Office, and claims for smaller amounts can be done online, S.C. Treasurer Curtis Loftis said.

Palmetto State residents aren’t the only ones paying fees to asset recovery companies. The state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism ended up paying nearly $600 after a company located thousands owed to them in the Treasurer’s fund, according to records from the state Comptroller’s Office.

“They’re in the next building,” Loftis said from his office on the State House grounds. “There’s no reason they should have done that.”

The money is ‘lost’

South Carolina’s Unclaimed Property fund holds more than $650 million from companies that cannot find the rightful owner.

The money — which can come from lawsuits, inheritances, utility deposits, issues with stocks and several other sources — belongs to state governmental agencies, businesses or residents, but is held by the Treasurer’s Office until the rightful owner can be found.

Loftis said the biggest issue his office faces when it comes to unclaimed property is letting people know it’s there.

“When money comes to us, it’s lost,” Loftis said. “A lot of people don’t even know it’s there.”

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Claims can range from a few dollars to millions. Either way, the Treasurer’s Office holds telethons, community meetings and door to door campaigns across the state to return the money to its rightful owners.

“It’s the small claims that matter,” Loftis said. “You can return to someone $200 or $300 or $500 and they’ll cry. They’ll send you thank you notes because that is their medicine money for the month,” it’s money that can help their children get back into technical college, “It’s their rent money,” he said.

Sometimes, though, private companies reach S.C. claimants first. They have customers agree in advance to pay the company part of the claim once it’s filed. Though the Treasurer’s Office informs all claimants that filing for their own money is free, sometimes it’s too late, Director of Programs for the Treasurer’s Office Dayle DeLong said.

“Once they sign a contract with the company, that’s kind of how the companies get them,” DeLong said.

Money not always easy to find

Dennis Pruszinske, the owner of Florida-based ProLocators, said he often charges a fee to help collect all the information that is needed to file a claim.

“It’s not always as easy as one might think,” Pruszinske said. “The states require usually quite a bit of information.”

Pruszinske said there is nothing that stops his potential clients from just filing claims themselves, but navigating state databases can be difficult, he said. Sometimes names are entered wrong or in a strange way, he added.

In the case of the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, the money was listed under the name of a vendor that had recently declared bankruptcy, Parks department spokeswoman Dawn Dawson-House said. After searching for the money themselves fruitlessly, Parks department officials consulted with ProLocators to find the potential payout.

As a creditor of the vendor, the Parks Department eventually received more than $38,000 from the vendor’s bankruptcy, something they would not have been aware of if it weren’t for ProLocators, Dawson-House said. The department ultimately paid the company about $580 for the service.

The Treasurer’s Office worked with a bankruptcy court to make sure the money got to the rightful owners eventually, Dawson-House said.

When government entities have money in the unclaimed property account, the office works to notify officials immediately, Loftis said.

About your unclaimed property

Do you have unclaimed property? Search the S.C. Treasurer’s Office website to see if you have unclaimed property.

What will you need? At first, your name. Cities you lived in can help narrow the search. Later, you will need other identifying documents such as a photo ID and social security number to complete your claim.

Is there a deadline for filing a claim? No.

What does it cost? It’s free to file, if you go through the state.

Need more help? Call (803)737-4771 to reach the Unclaimed Property Program.

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Emily Bohatch helps cover South Carolina’s government for The State. She also updates The State’s databases. Her accomplishments include winning a Green Eyeshade award in Disaster Reporting in 2018 for her teamwork reporting on Hurricane Irma. She has a degree in Journalism with a minor in Spanish from Ohio University’s E. W. Scripps School of Journalism.