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UNCLAIMED FUNDS?

I received a postcard from a company in Pompano Beach, Fla., called Unclaimed Funds Network (UFN). The card said unclaimed funds had been located and were being held for me.

The total award amount was $5,009.Here, in part, is the text of the card:

"This is official correspondence to confirm that we are holding a check for guaranteed cash for you from a secured sweepstakes account.

"You may have additional cash being held from other sources. Public records show over $2.4 billion dollars is being held unclaimed. These tremendous sums include uncollected inheritance, misdirected Social Security payments, forgotten bank accounts, refund checks, lost tax refunds, unclaimed awards, etc. As many as one in six Americans could claim and be eligible to receive cash, merchandise, automobiles, from one or more of these sources.

"Additional cash which you may be due from other sources can be claimed by following proper procedures. Claimant's release forms should be used to apply for these funds. These forms and complete instructions including procedures, addresses, etc., are available in a special Network Data Package."

The card says in order to receive the Network Data Package I must send the company $9.97 to Unclaimed Funds Network, 1291A Powerline Road, Suite 325A, Pompano Beach, Fla., 33069.

In small print at the bottom of the card are the words "No fee required for UFN cash award."

I did not send in the money but would like to know if this scam should be reported to the postmaster. - G.D., Salt Lake City.

The postal inspector's office already knows about it. "We've received a few complaints that were forwarded from the Better Business Bureau in West Palm Beach," said the postal inspector we spoke to on the phone.

Neither he nor the spokesman for the Broward County Division of Consumer Protection had a copy of the Network Data Package. So they couldn't tell us what you'd be getting for your $9.97.

No one we spoke to, however, thought the offer was on the up and up.

"I would bet my bottom dollar it's a scam," said the spokesman for Consumer Protection. "If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck."

"If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," said the postal inspector.

He recalled a company called Unclaimed Assets. The company, which signed a consent agreement that put it out of business, was based in Boca Raton. In return for money (he didn't remember the amount), the consumer received a booklet listing names and addresses of agencies that might be holding unclaimed property. The consumer would then have to inquire at each agency for any unclaimed assets in his or her name.

The advertising of Unclaimed Assets was deemed to be misleading, therefore the consent agreement.

We called UNF and found out a few details. The person we spoke to said there is $5,009 in a sweepstakes account. That money, which is put up by the company as an advertising incentive, will be split among all the people who sign and return the postcard like the one you received, he said. He also said that by signing and returning the postcard, you are eligible for the $5,000 grand prize.

We asked him what the phrase "unclaimed funds have been located and are being held for you" meant.

He said that referred to the $5,009 sweepstakes account that would be divided among respondents. As far as searching for unclaimed funds being held by government or private agencies or financial institutions goes, "the information we send you will help you do the search yourself," he said.

In our opinion, anyone who signs and returns the card is wasting his time. However, since the postcard is postage paid, anyone who can't resist the chance to participate in a lottery won't be out any money.

Whether the company actually has a $5,009 sweepstakes account, however, is a matter of its word. Maybe the sweepstakes account is a scam. Maybe it isn't. But it won't matter because you haven't put any money on the line.

If you send in $9.97, you're betting money. We suggest you draw the line there. Even if you did receive the booklet, the information it contains is, in our opinion, relatively useless.