Today, I want to share with you the legal pitfall that can get you banned for life from getting your Private Investigator’s License if you’re trying to make money by skip tracing from what you learned in a “Find Unclaimed Funds” training course.
Skip tracing is a skill you may already have and you may be quite good at it already. And finding unclaimed funds for people and reuniting them with their money requires skip tracing skills.
How Unclaimed Funds Work
Companies such as a credit card company, retirement savings plan or maybe a bank, have an account that’s been inactive for too long, and they’re trying to get in-touch with the person who has the funds in that account. It can be a modest amount of money, say $37 or it could be $3,700 dollars (or more)!
The company tries, but they can’t locate the rightful owner to issue the refund.
When they can’t reunite people with their funds, they turn the money over to the state unclaimed funds division. The actual state office that holds the funds may go by a different name in your state. A lot of times it’s run through the Secretary of State’s office or Department of Commerce.
What citizens can do, is go online and search by name and see if they have any unclaimed funds due to them.
This has become super easy over the years, especially with the advent of the internet. No longer do you have to mail off a letter and request the information or go down to the office and have it checked for you. You can see right online if there’s unclaimed funds for you. Just type in your name.
These “Find Unclaimed Funds” courses teach you to go online and find unclaimed funds and help the rightful owner claim the funds while you collect a percentage of the claimed money as a “finder’s fee”.
Of course you’re looking for the larger unclaimed funds, right? The $3,100 or $5,000, or $10,000 unclaimed funds and those are harder and harder to find because more and more people are doing this themselves online!
But, the courses suggest you find these unclaimed funds, look at who they’re due to, and then skip trace that person.
Find that person and send them a letter – a proposal – explaining that you know where there are some unclaimed funds for them, and that (for a percentage) you will help them find and claim the money.
Many times, this can be legal and helpful. There are people who just say, “Yes. Do the paperwork for me. Help me out with this. I don’t want to mess with it.”
Here’s the problem.
Because it’s so easy for people to do this for themselves, most of the larger unclaimed funds have been claimed! That means, in order for it to be profitable for you, you have to collect a decent amount of money (a larger percentage of the smaller funds) in order to make enough money that it’s worthwhile for you to do this!
What percentage of those smaller unclaimed funds do you need to collect to make it worthwhile to do all the work of skip tracing this person and reuniting them with the funds? That can vary.
If it’s a $10,000 fund, maybe a 10% finder’s fee (one thousand dollars) could be quite worth it!
The problem is a lot of these unclaimed funds are much, much smaller. Maybe $280, something like that. If you’re reuniting someone with a $280 unclaimed fund and only getting ten percent, you’re only getting $28! That’s probably not worth your time.
And if you use any paid mechanisms like an online database that you pay for or even if you run down to the courthouse to pull some papers, with parking cost and your time, it’s probably not worth it to do for twenty-eight dollars.
So, you sit and say to yourself (as is wise to do), “What makes this business worthwhile to me?”
You might say, “Well, 30% seems fair. Now it’s worth me doing the work.”
I have no problem with that. Charge what you’re worth! Charge enough money to turn a profit! However, here’s the trouble…
What nobody tells you.
The thing that the courses aren’t telling any of their “students” is… Some states cap the percentage at which you can collect a portion of a finder’s fee.
Real world example: One state caps your fee at ten percent, which does seem reasonable to me, but it may really affect your ability to turn a profit!
Here’s the price you really pay.
If you don’t understand the cap that your state places on finder’s fee for unclaimed funds, that can really bite you. Now, you’re committing a crime if you’re charging more than the percent they allow!
If you’re trying to get your private investigators license, this can be really, really problematic because some states, for real, for sure, I guarantee you, have a provision in the requirements to be private investigator that you never have a previous infraction for committing unlicensed investigative services.
I’m going to say that again… You cannot, in some places, get a PI license if you have an infraction or conviction for doing unlicensed investigative work.
If you’re doing unclaimed funds work and think you’re doing everything legitimately and ethically, but haven’t done the deep research to learn your trade well, then you might find yourself coming afoul of this percentage rule that the state has established and then you’ve got an infraction that can get you banned from getting your private investigator’s license.
You see, you’re using investigative tools and techniques and providing investigative services and that can get you banned from getting your license for life because the places that I know that have that “no infraction” qualification have not placed a time limit on it. That means it could have been 30 years ago and they can still hold it against you! (That’s some pretty expensive “free” online training!)
How do you avoid this? A big part of the solution is to vet the information you’re learning for free. Make sure it’s trustworthy.
Ask yourself who’s the instructor? Is it’s coming from an experienced expert, preferably from somebody who’s done this before?
And if it’s paid training ask yourself if “they” offer a rock-solid guarantee? (Usually “they” are people hiding behind a generic P.I. “school” name.)
If you do decide to take the next step and get paid training on something, whatever course it might be, make sure that the course is providing you with good solid, complete information. One little “tattle-tell” that’ll let you know if it’s worth it or not: do they have a money back guarantee? More importantly, how is it structured?
There are a lot of online courses that’ll give you a six-day money back guarantee. That doesn’t help you a whole lot if they’re trickling out the information to you!
Maybe it’s a ten or twelve-week course. The first two lessons are going to be really, really basic like “The duties of a Private Investigator” or “The history of private investigations”.
That doesn’t hardly help you at all! And you have to make a decision on whether or not to request a refund that early in the course?!?!
You’re looking at the lessons you know are coming up like “Sources and methods for skip tracing” and “Advanced mobile surveillance techniques” ( those are the things you’re interested in and maybe need to know a little more specifically) and the course creator (whoever it is!) is asking you to request your refund now or tough luck! Those first-week lessons don’t tell you anything! Then, boom, you’re on the hook because the course has a really weak guarantee. I hate that.
When you’re trying to learn something, sure, use the free resources online. But, use them with a grain of salt. Evaluate them!
When you decide that you do need to get paid training, ask yourself some of these questions, like is there a solid guarantee? Make sure that you’re getting exactly what you want and you’re not going to get stiffed.
This would be the perfect solution.
I’m going to give you a little piece of advice here that I give every week and if course creators would follow this advice, you wouldn’t have anything to worry about.
I encourage you to follow it at all times yourself in business but also with your family, and in any aspect of your life… Do the right thing, even if it’s the hard thing.
Committed to your success,
Private Investigator (Ret.) &
#1 Best Selling Author
If you like these helpful tips, then don’t miss out on my free special report If You Want To be a Private Investigator Give Up… Unless You Do These Three Things. If not, you can get it right here…
I was recently working with [redacted] Investigations as a ” claims researcher” trying to connect unclaimed funds with their prospective owners after a few months at it I decided it wasn’t really going to help me enter the PI field. It felt more like a telemarketing job and honestly I wasn’t very productive or successful at it . since then I’ve refocused on the Loss Prevention job hunt , had a couple interviews and I’m a security officer at the local hospital . I’m looking into getting licensed as an insurance adjuster since getting my bail bondsman license so far has been fruitless.
Coming from the IT field and switching my focus back to my original goal of a PI license has been daunting ( trying to make up for lost time) and I probably won’t be licensed until I’m 50 years old but I’m going to keep on moving towards my goal . Thanks for all the information and insights you share . I truly appreciate you !
Hey, Matthew. For someone like you who is serious about this line of work, please allow me to recommend what I think is my most important video to date. You can check it out here: https://shadowanyone.com/the-best-and-maybe-only-reason-to-be-private-investigator/
In the mean time, thank you for your kind words and I wish you the best!
P.S. – I think you’ll enjoy L.P. work if you decide to go that way!
Im 58, a disabled Vet and currently work for a Private Security company. Im a licensed investigator, process server and my wife is pretty experienced in skip trace. My current employer doesnt seem to want to pursue the P.I. thing and I no longer want to just be a security officer, especially since my disability makes it tough on me to walk, let alone wrestle with people and our clients are nightclubs, so we wrestle a lot at times. Ive not really done any P.I. work and I just got certified as a Process server here in Texas. Im a pretty driven person, especially when I have the right tools to do what I want done. Do you think its feasible that I could make a decent living at this or am I just seeing the up side because its something I want to do?
Don’t let anyone tell you it’s easy to turn a profit in this business. It ain’t.
One problem is many people who are excellent investigators (absolutely extraordinary!), don’t know how to market their business.
Learn everything you can about marketing in the real-world for little or no cost. I’m not talking about buying “advertising”. I mean blogging, social media, maybe direct mail, etc.
Here’s a video (cued up to the exact spot) where I talk about the difficulty of getting clients. But, if you follow me long enough, you’ll see this is a big theme of mine. Getting clients is the hardest part of this business!
Can it be done? Yup.
Will you be cash flow positive in your first year? Nope. Probably not.
I tell everyone to keep their day job until the profits from their business are great enough that they know they can make it on only their business.
As Jim Rohn said, “Profits are better than income, but you need income until your profits can support you.”
I hope that’s helpful, Curt.