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Anybody Lost Some Money?

post #1 of 3
Thread Starter 
I work for our State's Unclaimed Property Bureau and while responding to another post, decided to do a write up for you all on the subject since there are so many scams out there that involve "missing money", and it seems very few people know the truth. It's very cool, several people I know have found -in some cases- hundreds of dollars that they didn't know they had, being held for safe keeping by the State government as Unclaimed, and it's for real. Don't worry, this is about government bureaus, not some scam I'm trying to promote! If you're interested in looking for your own, read this first. (LONG POST!)...

What is Unclaimed Property?
Unclaimed Property is not houses or land. That's handled locally. Unclaimed Property being held by your State consists of dormant bank accounts, uncashed checks (payroll, insurance benefits, etc), contents of Safe Deposit Boxes (which are auctioned and the funds are posted for the owner to claim), and lots of other goodies. The funds are either reported to the State where the last known address is, or to the State of current residence... so don't bother searching for your name in South Carolina just because you vacationed there or your great Aunt lived there.

How Do I Claim It?
The specifics on how you make your claim on this type of property will vary by State. Most will require you to fill out a claim form (which you retrieve from them) and provide documentation proving the account belongs to you along with a copy of your current ID. The proof documentation can get tricky depending on what information about the owner the State was provided with when the bank/business/etc turned the money over to them. Sometimes if they've provided nothing but a name, you'll be hard pressed to prove that it belongs to you. You'll likely have to come up with something documenting your connection to the institution that reported the funds, dated prior to the date the funds were given to the State. Many accounts may have nothing but a last known address... which could turn out to be an address you lived at 20 years ago, but you'll still have to provide documentation proving you lived there (old bills, school transcripts, stuff like that). Not all unclaimed property accounts have a social security number for the owner associated with them and it would be my guess that more often that not there won't be one, so don't just assume a copy of your ID & Social Security Card is enough, no matter how positive you are that the money is yours. Just call & ask them what you need to send if you're not sure, but don't get mad at the answer you get... it's like lost-and-found, you have to be able to provide documentation to prove you're the owner and sometimes they don't have much to go on.

If you're making a claim for a dead relative, be prepared to not only provide the above, but also proof that you're an heir. A death certificate will almost certainly be required. If the account is under a certain amount, some States may allow you to sign an affidavit swearing that you're the heir... but be careful and completely truthful. Not long ago I got a call from a man wanting his half of funds that had been paid to his brother, his brother having sworn to be the only heir. That man was sent a copy of the affidavit his brother signed and he's now taking his brother to small claims court to get it back.

All this sounds like a lot of red tape, but to be perfectly honest, it's the only way we can ensure we're paying the right person. It's actually quite simple, and our standard claim form only has four steps (and two of them are just to fill out something on the form!).

COOL! Where Do I Start?
I've saved this to last because I want to stress the pitfalls of searching Unclaimed Property databases. Let's say you do find an account in your name... but when you get the claim form you find they're asking you to provide documentation of an address you've never lived at. Throw the form away. If you've never lived, or never knew anyone who did live, at the address they have, it's 99.9% certain that the account belongs to someone with a name like yours. No kidding, someone with a name exactly like mine, down to the middle initial, has Unclaimed Property in Montana... I've never lived in Montana, so guess what... ain't me. I see claims on a daily basis from people who have convinced themselves that an account belongs to them only because the name matched... they don't recognize the company that reported the funds or the owner's last known address... but they still believe it's theirs. So make sure you clearly recognize at least something about the account before you file the claim, and completely read & follow the directions before sending it in.

Now... the easiest and most effective way to find out if you have any Unclaimed money is to go to google.com and search "Unclaimed Property (your State name)", obviously meaning you need to put in the name of the State where you live or have lived after "Unclaimed Property". Usually, the link to your State's official site for their Unclaimed Property program pops right up. BE CAREFUL! Not only are there plenty of Unclaimed Property scams, there are "Locator" agencies out there (that are actual legitimate businesses) that will charge you a fee just to submit your claim for you, when in most States you can do it yourself for free. Make sure you're dealing only with the State directly and never pay an up-front fee just to search a database!!

Keep in mind it can take a while. Us, for instance: we have 15,000 claims in line and 20 people to review them. Our turn around time is typically 90 days from the date the complete claim is received in the office. If something's missing and we have to send it back, it'll be significantly longer so make sure to understand and send everything they ask you for.

Any questions?
post #2 of 3
Cool. I have lived in several states over the years, and could have left behind a bank acct or two. I really should take the time to check!
post #3 of 3
Thread Starter 
Why, yes, you should

I think the most common thing (for living folks who don't normally lose track of their money) is a payroll check... for instance, you worked 1 day at McDonalds after you graduated high school, realized the job blew and left without getting your day's pay.

Don't forget to look for deceased relatives... those can be virtual treasure troves if they died with a big bank account nobody knew about. I've seen lots of claims upwards of $100k like that, and one recently for over $600k. But make sure you know their last address -or something- that you could identify the account by. If you see something that looks like it could be them, dig up their death certificate and give the office a call to see if there's a social on the account and find out if you've got a match for sure. But, be forewarned that big accounts could require probate documentation (in our State, it's accounts over $5k)... which means if the estate was never probated then you'll have to go get a court order to legally establish the heirs.

LOL... just thought I'd throw that additional info in just in case anybody's wondering! We get so many angry callers because people don't understand the process, or why we're asking for certain stuff.
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