With the economy suffering a bad case of the blues, most of us would welcome a few extra dollars that came with no strings attached.

This makes us prime targets for "free money" enticements and, sure enough, the Internet is crowded with advertisements such as, "Claim Your Missing Money" or "Free Search For Unclaimed Money." One of the older and better-known promoters is FoundMoney.com.

Founded by Edward Palonek™ -- who, by the way, claims to have trademarked his name -- FoundMoney.com calls itself the "leader in unfound assets" and provides a "FREE national search for lost money."

I wanted to see if I had unclaimed assets, so I typed in my name and discovered hundreds of results with various amounts of unclaimed funds. However, there was no physical address listed with the names, not even a state. To find out more information I would have to purchase a membership, which sort of negates the value of the "free" search.

I didn't think I wanted to invest in a membership because according to complaints filed with ConsumerAffairs.com, other consumers have paid for a membership only to discover there was no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

"I used the free search and it came up with two accounts in my name," wrote Sharon, of Salisbury, North Carolina. "After paying for the REAL search, guess what? Nothing shows up in my name. I requested a refund and was told you only get a refund if your name shows up and you're unable to get the funds," Sharon said.

And Michael, of Elko, Nevada, said that he laid out $24.95 for a membership for nothing. "I felt I could trust the site because it said that Oprah (Winfrey) and Maury (Povich) both had the founder on their show," wrote Mike. "I am just like all the rest of the people that spent money and got burnt."

In response to published complaints, we heard from Kathy at FoundMoney.com.

"We are committed to client satisfaction and offer a full unconditional 100% money back guarantee on all our services. Clients are NEVER at financial risk of not getting their desired service," Kathy wrote.

Kathy went on to make the claim that negative consumer reviews are actually the work of disgruntled competitors dazzled by the brilliant success of FoundMoney.com.

"We hate to brag, but our package of services together with our customer care and satisfaction is so great, that many of our competitors have become extremely jealous of our success and have resorted to a number of unscrupulous online negative marketing tactics," she claimed, citing no supporting evidence.

"We would ask you to strongly consider, that most if NOT all of the (obviously overboard!) supposed complaints about FoundMoney.com and its online unclaimed property business are unfounded and probably manufactured our less successful competition!"

OK, we decided that not only would we strongly consider Kathy's claim, we would actually ask the complaining consumers about it. Not surprisingly, they were not amused.

"I am not nor have I ever been associated with the competition of FoundMoney.com. The allegation is ludicrous," said Lee, of Sacramento. "I was in the legal business for years and I'm currently a sitting member of the county grand jury, so if FoundMoney wants to take me on, come on ahead."

Michael of Elko, Nevada was livid that FoundMoney would even suggest that he worked for their competition.

"I'm just a blue-collar worker trying to raise five kids, and for them to suggest that I work for their competition, all I have to say is that they need to back off," Michael huffed.

Never say never

However, while FoundMoney.com may arguably not be the best place to invest your spare change, that's not to say that all unclaimed funds claims are scams or hoaxes.

In fact, Nebraska officials have lately found themselves literally unable to give money away. They've sent letters to Cornhuskers telling them of unclaimed funds in their name, only to have their letters sent to the circular file.

Now in some states, this might be greeted gleefully but they take these things seriously in Nebraska and state workers have been sent out door-to-door, trying to get Nebraskans to accept what's rightfully theirs.

The phrase "unclaimed property" refers to numerous things including abandoned savings or checking accounts, stocks, un-cashed payroll checks, insurance payments or refunds, customer overpayments, etc.

It is currently estimated that state treasurers and various agencies are holding over $32 billion in unclaimed property. While most are not trying as hard as Nebraska to put that money together with its rightful owners, they are at least making the information available, if you know where to look for it.

"All states provide a way to search for missing money for free, and unlike the sites that charge, the state websites provide identifiable information such as a mailing address," said Steve Larson, Deputy State Treasurer of Iowa and President of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA).

"People also need to understand that the states have the latest data whereas with non-state sites, it's anyone's guess how often the data is updated," Larson said.

Where to go

While many Web sites talk about being the "official" site for unclaimed funds, there is only one destination that is officially endorsed by NAUPA -- MissingMoney.com.

MissingMoney.com allows you to perform a free detailed search for unclaimed property in over 40 states, all from one centralized location. It also has links to the unclaimed property division of each state that is not a part of the MissingMoney.com database.

The majority of the states handle everything for free, although there are a handful of states that charge some type of processing fee once it has been confirmed that you are owed money.

A good example is Ohio. "In 1991, the Ohio General Assembly established a 5% administrative fee to be assessed to each claims account," said Dennis Ginty, Spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Commerce.

As with the few other states that charge a fee, Ohio won't charge you anything to search. In short, you will not pay a cent unless you know that a check is on the way.

"For instance, if the consumer has $100.00 in unclaimed funds, the state would keep $5.00 for processing the claim and the consumer would receive a check for $95.00," Ginty said.

In my situation, I decided to use the free detailed search provided by my state and discovered that I was owed $50.00. The money came from an old P.O. Box that I had in 1999.

Once I fill out the form and provide my state with the routine identity information, they will be sending me a freshly printed $50.00 check from the state treasurer.

I guess that proves you really can get something for nothing every now and then.