By Betty Berry, Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2010  Q: I received a letter from a company saying that the state was holding some money that belonged to me and for a fee this company would collect that money and forward it to me. Is this on the up and up or is it some type of scam?

A: This is an excellent question and you are to be congratulated on being so observant. We can never be too careful.

The letter you received in all likelihood is an honest offer. There are companies whose sole purpose is to search public records and do the work required to collect money due an individual for a fee. Sometimes it is a flat fee and sometimes it is a percentage.

However, you can easily search the records yourself and claim the money without the use of private services that want upfront fees.

When someone forgets about or was never aware of an account or refund, and the company holding that money is unable to reach them, the money is turned over to the government of the last state in which the account owner resided. It is held as unclaimed property waiting to be claimed by its rightful owner.

Most accounts become unclaimed when there is no owner contact with the financial institution or account activity for three years.

In California that property is held by the State Controller in the State Controller’s Unclaimed Property Program.

You can search the State Controller’s website at or call 800-992-4647 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

You can also write to the State Controller’s Unclaimed Property Program, P.O. Box 942850, Sacramento, CA 94250-5873.

To discover if you are among those who have unclaimed property waiting for you to come forward, check or Search every state in which you have lived, and check maiden names and those of deceased family members.

Q: I understand that Medicare Part D enrollees who fall into the doughnut hole will receive a refund check of $250. What would I have to do in order to receive this check?

A: Seniors, except those receiving assistance with their prescription costs, who hit the doughnut hole in their Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan this year will receive a one-time refund check in the amount of $250.

This rebate is the first step in a decadelong phase-out of the so-called “gap” in Medicare Part D prescription coverage.

There are no forms to fill out. Once you qualify by being in the doughnut hole Medicare will automatically send you the check.

Since this check will come to you automatically, no one is authorized to approach you offering help in obtaining the refund. If you are approached by someone who offers such help you should report it to the Area Agency on Aging’s HICAP manager, who can be reached at 477-7310.

Once you are in the doughnut hole Medicare will start the refund process. Part D enrollees who were in the doughnut hole in January, February or March received their checks in June. Those who entered the doughnut hole in April, May or June are currently receiving their checks.

Enrollees entering the doughnut hole in July, August or September will receive checks in October and those who are eligible in October, November and December can expect these one-time checks in January.

Looking ahead, if you reach the coverage gap in 2011 you will receive a 50 percent discount on your brand-name prescription drugs at the time you purchase them unless you are already receiving Medicare extra help with your prescription drugs.

— Betty Berry is a senior advocate for Senior Concerns. The advocates are at the Goebel Senior Adult Center, 1385 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks, CA 91362; call 495-6250 or e-mail (please include your telephone number). You are invited to submit questions on senior issues.

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