Did Uncle Ed leave you millions?...probably not
"Dear Peggy Powell," the email began. "Type your last name in the Foundmoney search engine and see if you can find CASH that belongs to you . . . INSTANTLY!"
The message went on to tout the site (http://9739.foundmoney.com) and the wondrous things that have happened to its users. Gail Sperry, for instance, "searched Foundmoney and found $59,839.12 left by her deceased husband. Because this was not in her husband's will, she would've never found it had she not visited Foundmoney."
Soon Powell, who is my officemate, was plugging her name into Foundmoney's search engine as I peered over her shoulder. More than 10 Peggy Powells with unclaimed loot turned up; could she be one of them?
Naturally, there's no such thing as a free search where money is involved. To find out more, Powell would have to pay $20 for one search, $30 for six, or $40 for ten. Could this be for real, she wondered, or was it a scam?
I can be surprisingly naive sometimes; my reaction was that it was probably okay, since there really is unclaimed money out there– witness the list of unclaimed property and tax refunds the Daily Progress runs every year. Why shouldn't someone make money alerting the lucky people who have money waiting for them?
(The legit bet for finding missing money that I have found is missingmoney.com. Officially Sponsored by several states– including Virginia– as well as the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, missingmoney.com is totally free. It pays for itself with advertising.)
I ran a Google search on Foundmoney, and was soon exploring the site's sorry underside. According to ConsumerAffairs.com, where three unhappy Foundmoney customers have posted their experiences with Foundmoney, this is an offer that's better ignored.
Consider what happened to Hoby from Longview, Texas, who gave the site his credit card number and was billed: "I have not received anything. I have contacted them 14 times, included transaction numbers from my credit-card statement, emailed, called, etc. I paid for a service and got nothing in return."
So much for the site's reassuring offer: "Do you have questions or problems? Talk to a live agent online now." (I guess that's better than talking to a dead one.) The other former customers who wrote in had had similarly futile– and extremely frustrating– experiences.
As ConsumerAffairs.com points out, "Let's think for a second about these services that claim to find 'lost' money owed to individuals. You know who most of those individuals are? Dead people, that's who. The rest are mostly folks who are in comas, prisons, or otherwise indisposed."
ConsumerAffairs.com sounded like a pretty savvy bunch, so I went on to explore their site, whose purpose is to get the word out on "frauds and outrages visited upon consumers"; they also "refer complaints to appropriate agencies, attorneys and organizations." The three officers and advisers listed have impressive résumés; the CEO is a former vice president of United Press International, and the other two are attorneys.
One, Joan Lisante, practices in Fairfax County and the District of Columbia and "writes regularly on consumer and small business law for newspapers, magazines and websites." The site includes her booklet on small claims court, "Small Claims, Big Stakes!," which I highly recommend to anyone who's thinking of going to court over a dispute.
The site divides the consumer universe into such areas as financial services, health products, online sales, pets and pet care, and communications. One page lists scam alerts, and another has links to consumer resources such as local and federal agencies.
This is one of the best consumer websites I've seen; among other things, it saved Powell from what almost certainly would have been an expensive waste of time.
Unfortunately, it didn't save her from a dismal experience with eBay, in which she bought a size 14 suit that was so small that only a size 10 person would be able to fit into it. If she'd checked Consumer Affairs, though, she might have hesitated; the site includes a whole slew of testimonials from disgruntled eBay customers.
Considering the sheer volume of eBay sales, however, unhappy customers are probably comparatively rare. Alas, that's not much comfort to Powell, who's now looking for a size 10 woman to buy her size 14 suit. Any takers?
Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer or write her at 100 Second Street NW, 22902.