Funds in Search of Their Owners
It Really Is Free Money
- The phrase “If something sounds too good to be true, it
usually is” is usually right. One exception is a little-known
program run by every state. Whenever a bank account, insurance account,
or utility account becomes inactive, it gets turned over to the
state comptroller’s office. Anyone who has ever moved and
forgotten to collect their utility deposit or to cash a health insurance
check may have money at their state’s office of unclaimed
State has more than $7.5 billion in unclaimed funds spread over
21 million accounts. New York collected over $509 million during
fiscal year 2005 but returned only $151.7 million. Odds are, someone
you know has some money they have forgotten about. In fact, one
individual has a $1.7 million unclaimed check waiting for him
at the New York State Comptroller’s Office.
my last name on New York State’s Unclaimed Funds webpage
To my pleasant surprise, I found that my father had two accounts.
Both accounts were shares of an environmental company he bought
in the mid-1980s that he had forgotten about. My dad received
a check for $117 from the New York State Comptroller’s Office,
and I decided to search some more.
in my name again on a website that searches 35 states at once
for unclaimed funds, www.missingmoney.com, and found unclaimed
accounts for my uncle and cousin in New Hampshire, and for my
grandfather in Florida. My grandfather had $295 in rebates from
the DMV. Because he died in 1993, my father had the honor of once
again claiming the funds.
address on my father’s two New York accounts is the same
address he has lived at since 1979, I was curious as to why he
had never received notice concerning these records. It seems easy
enough: All it would take is a letter notifying him of these accounts,
and providing instructions on how to claim them. When I asked
the comptroller’s department for an explanation, they stated
that it was not their responsibility and the onus was on the company
holding the account to notify the owner. This rarely happens.
When a company does attempt to notify the owner, it is usually
not successful because the company’s version of “notice”
usually consists of taking out a full-page ad in a local newspaper
and printing out all their unclaimed accounts in four-point type.
I doubt many people read these ads, so the money goes to the Office
of Unclaimed Funds, where it will languish for eternity until
someone finds it.
Funds to Their Owners
belongs to the people of New York, and they should have it back.
My solution to this problem is simple: The New York State Comptroller’s
Office should set up a computer program cross-referencing the
names and addresses on the unclaimed accounts with the telephone
directory. If a match is found, the Comptroller’s Office
should notify the holder of that account. Returning just $1 billion
of the $7.5 billion could be a significant boost to the New York
Silversmith CPA, CFE, is with Rogoff & Company, P.C.,
New York, N.Y. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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