Q: I received a letter saying that the state is holding unclaimed money for me and that this firm can get me the money for a fee. Is this a scam?
A: It's not necessarily a scam; there are a number of businesses that will recover unclaimed funds for a fee, but is not necessary. You can retrieve unclaimed funds yourself -- for free -- from the state's Bureau of Unclaimed Property.
If a bank, insurance company, former employer or other financial institution owes you money and loses touch with you for five years, it must turn the funds over to the state you live in; in Florida, that's the Department of Financial Services' Bureau of Unclaimed Property (www.fltreasurehunt.org; 888-258-2253). If you've lived in another state, contact its financial services department or check www.missingmoney.com, which aggregates several states' unclaimed property databases.
Although you can claim your funds directly from the state, companies like the one that wrote you act as middlemen and offer to handle the task for you for a fee (generally a percentage of the funds you're due.)
It can take up to 90 days for a claim to be processed by the state.