Charging Money for Free Information (On Both Sides of the World)
The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) recently posted an article outlining how various companies in Australia seek to make money by repackaging otherwise public information at increased prices. According to the article, profit-minded Aussies are charging for public information relating to unclaimed property, ancestry records, government reports — sometimes at a significant profit.
The experience here in the U.S. is no different, particularly with regard to unclaimed property. Agreements with so-called “finder firms” are allowed in many states, pursuant to which the finder agrees to assist a claimant with obtaining his or her money from the state in exchange for a percentage fee.
Of course, states generally charge no fees for searching, claiming and receiving unclaimed property that they hold for the benefit of the rightful owner. Accordingly, finder firms (might) provide you with expertise or time (i.e., the they will deal with the the claim process so you don’t have to). They are NOT, however, providing you with access to the money; the underlying funds belong to the owner and is (or shortly will be) claimable directly from the state without the involvement of a finder firm.
Everyone is free to spend their time and money how they wish, and everyone has their own individual balance of what is worth doing and what is worth paying someone else to do. Just know what you are paying for. In the case of unclaimed funds and finder firms, it is (maybe) time and expertise, not access, that you are buying.