Locating and Contacting those owed the surplus (& WHEN to contact them)
How to find them (using only public records)
If you are an established Asset Recovery Company, Private Investigator or Lawyer, we’re sure you already have your methods of skip tracing and databases you use. This section if for someone just starting out, who may not have all the tools you do. There is a lot of information publicly available and especially in Florida, where the state has the most liberal and open public record laws on the books. Combined with the flurry of social media, it’s pretty easy to find people and/or their relatives.
Typically, you will have a name of the previous owner and the address of the property that was sold at the tax deed auction. Before you even begin researching, you can mail an envelope to the person’s old address with “Return Service Requested” printed 1/2 an inch above the delivery address. This will allow you to receive their forwarded address if they have one.
While waiting on that, you can use the following resources to find a person:
GOOGLE – It’s your best friend
Hopefully, their name is not very common which of course helps. You can type the following into Google to see if any newer address end up in the results:
“full name of person” state name (use the quotes)
Example: “Jean Ellen Spencer” Florida
If you can get a phone number, copy it down.
ADVANCED BACKGROUND CHECKS
You can search by Name, Address and Phone. This gives you a lot of addresses, phone numbers, emails and relatives for the person.
You can put in a phone number and it will give you a name and sometimes let you listen to the voicemail. Updated in June to include searches on Names, Addresses and Emails. We tested a few email searches and it worked pretty well. Typed in an email, got the correct name.
Excellent resource for finding people in Florida. Contains all registered voters, their address and in a lot of cases, phone number and email. People may move from their property sold at tax deed auctions, but they likely kept their same phone number and email.
If you have a phone number, type it into the Facebook Search box. If the person used their number on their profile, it will pull up their page.
If you have a phone number, type it into the Craigslist Search box. If the person used their number in an ad on Craigslist, it will pull up their ad which may give an email or another way to contact them as well.
PUBLIC RECORD SEARCHES
FINDING FLORIDA COMPANY OWNERS
Sometimes a property is in the name of a business, not a person, so you need to find the person who owns the business. If that business was registered in Florida, you are in luck with this website. If not, simply google the business name and you should be able to find the owner.
When to contact them
The best answer is as soon as possible. Most wait until the county has put up a surplus list on their website and at that point, the person has long moved away, which not only makes it harder to find them, but it’s HIGHLY likely they were already contacted by other asset recovery businesses.
You can see the auctions coming up. You can find out who the owner is right then. You could contact them right after the auction or even before the auction. Yes, they may redeem the property just before the auction or it sells for no overbid, but would it even matter in that case if they received your letter anyway?
However, keep this in mind. When asset recovery companies contact people, they really try not to say what the unclaimed money is, where it is, etc. Otherwise, they fear the person would just skip them and claim it themselves (although most laymen cannot figure out how to do that or even where to go to find out if they have an unclaimed surplus). There has to be a balance of how much to tell them up front versus when to tell them the full story. Again, it goes towards trust. Are you going to gain a client by being secretive in hopes they will go with you before finding out how to claim it themselves or are you going to lay it all out and make sure they understand YOU will be handling all the paperwork and tracking the claim for them for a small percentage of the unclaimed money?
That brings us to the fees. Unlike the State of Florida Unclaimed Property Division, there is no cap on the percent you can charge for this service. I know some who charge 40% of the unclaimed amount and are successful. So, this is up to you. You are also, of course, taking the chance at having the claim denied and you receive nothing. It’s imperative this point is stressed to your potential clients. They need to understand all the work you put into their claim as a leap of faith. They may receive nothing, but they did no work. You may receive nothing and already did plenty of work.