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Working Lunch Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 14:26 GMT
Who's tracking your shares?
Do you know where your shares are?

Have you got a secret holding that you're not even aware of?

Lots of people have - it's estimated there's many billions of pounds in unwanted investments floating around.

And if you don't track it down yourself, there are share detectives who'll do it for you - for a fee.

That's what happened to Working Lunch viewer Brian Moore, who received a letter from a shares "bounty hunter" telling him about a sizeable holding in his name.

Meticulous

Brian was surprised as he's quite meticulous about keeping his financial affairs in order.

Shareholder Brian Moore
Brian Moore: Puzzled
"I thought at first it was some sort of scam as nobody gives anybody money," he says.

"But then I thought more and more so I rang him and he did sound quite genuine

"I still didn't understand how it could be that there were shares I owned I didn't know about, because I am pretty well organised."

But what shocked him even more was the size of the commission the share detective was asking for - 20%.

"That is to me quite a high amount," says Brian. "If it was something like 5% or 10% I would probably have gone off and done it.

"I've already lost a lot of money on the shares because of the way the market's been. To lose another 20% just because someone has access to a list I don't have seemed wrong to me."

Grateful

Brian is grateful for being tipped off, but now thinks he has identified the mystery shares.

He plans to find them himself - and thinks they could be worth about 3,000.

So how can someone mislay a shareholding?

Sometimes a company gets taken over and the shares become what is called "unconditional".

This means the company gets most of the shares and the only thing for most shareholders to do is to sell.

If they don't, their names go on to a dissenters' register, where they stay for 12 years.

This register can be obtained by share detectives who can uncover holdings people don't know about.

Martin Tudge
Martin Tudge: Nominal fee
Martin Tudge runs a website called missingfortunes.com which helps people track down lost policies and shares.

He says you should be able to find any information on your own.

"You can approach the asset registrar yourself and probably pay a nominal fee for a replacement share certificate or a look-up fee," he explains.

"At 20% you're talking a vast amount of money if you're looking at a big payout on a policy so I don't think members of the public should be approaching these firms at all."

Justified

The detectives themselves are doing nothing wrong; they are simply searching registers on behalf of shareholders.

If people don't know about the holdings, they might think the fee is justified.

But beware that if you want to track down some shares yourself, they will stay on the dissenters' register for only 12 years and then the company could get its hands on the cash - leaving you with nothing.

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