1. How can I find out if the government has unclaimed money or property that may be mine?
To determine whether any unclaimed funds are being held by the federal government, you must determine the type of benefit or payment that could be involved, the date on which the payment was expected, and how the payment should have been made. Given this information, the agency responsible for certifying any payment due should be able to assist you in determining the current status of any payment involved. The titles and addresses for all federal agencies are available in The United States Government Manual (http://www.gpoaccess.gov/gmanual/index.html) which is available in most public libraries.
2. I received a letter stating that the Treasury Department may owe me money or may be holding funds (or property) in my name. The letter indicates that I can receive this unclaimed property if I pay a “finders” fee. Can these companies help me?
Several companies, or locator services, engaged in the business of identifying and recovering unclaimed assets for profit, acquire federal check issuance data from various federal government agencies under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. The information requested by these companies pertains to specific check symbols, numbers and dollar amounts identified on Treasury check cancellation listings. These listings are not searchable by personal identifiers, such as a person’s name or social security number. Personal identifiers may, however, exist in federal agencies’ check issuance or cancellation records. Using such personal identifiers, if available, these locator services attempt to locate the prospective beneficiaries, or “payees,” for canceled/unpaid government checks and, on their behalf, attempt to collect the payment amounts from the federal agencies that originally certified the payments. It is important to note that these firms are also involved in recovering unclaimed property in the possession of state and local government entities.
3. What happens with federal checks that are returned undeliverable or cannot be paid for one reason or another?
No non-federal agency can issue payments on behalf of federal program agencies until official certification of those payments is received from the agencies. In those cases when undeliverable, unnegotiable and/or otherwise unpaid checks are returned to the Treasury disbursing centers, the checks are merely cancelled and the respective funds return to the agencies that originally certified the payments.
4. How does property get lost in the first place?
Property often gets lost for numerous reasons; change of address, change or jobs, because of illness or upheaval. For instance, my mother got sick. Like many of us, she was urprepared and did not have her accounts and insurance information in order. Her illness as it progressed made it difficult for her to communicate. When she passed the family did not know where to look for information regarding her belongings. Over time some things were found, however a lot may still be missing. Recently I discovered she had opened small bank accounts all over the city. They ended up “dormant”–which generally happens when no business is transacted for three years or more–and getting escheated, or turned over, to the state. Situations like this is not uncommon and is just one of many scenarios on how property gets lost.
5. What is unclaimed property?
Unclaimed property (sometimes referred to as abandoned property) refers to accounts in financial institutions and companies that have had no activity generated or contact with the owner for one year or a longer period. Common forms of unclaimed property include savings or checking accounts, stocks, uncashed dividends or payroll checks, refunds, traveler’s checks, trust distributions, unredeemed money orders or gift certificates (in some states), insurance payments or refunds and life insurance policies, annuities, certificates of
deposit, customer overpayments, utility security deposits, mineral royalty
payments, and contents of safe deposit boxes.
6. How do states try to return this money?
The state treasurers and other officials who administer the unclaimed property programs have developed many powerful and effective methods to locate owners including the use of websites, cross-checking public data, staging thousands of awareness events at state fairs and even shopping malls, and developing a national database. The methods work as tens of millions of potential lost owners inquire annually resulting in this vital consumer protection program returning money to people at a rate approaching two billion dollars annually.
7. How do I begin my free search?
Companies are required by law to send funds from lost accounts to the state of the owner’s last known address. That means you could potentially have unclaimed property in every state that you have resided. You might want to begin your search on your states unclaimed property online database, or other Web sites endorsed by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA). These sites are free.
8. What is an Heir Locator?
Heir Locator or Asset Finder is a paid professional finder, someone who is in the business of trying to find and assist the owners of unclaimed funds. In most States, if you do choose to use a finder, a full disclosure contract must be signed between the finder and the owner and must specify where the money is, what the money represents, the amount of the funds, the finder’s fee (no more than X%, as provided by that State’s statute), and how much the owner receives after the fee. Additionally, the contract must be included with your claim form. In order for a finder to accept a fee, the funds must be in the Division of Unclaimed Funds’ custody for a minimum of twenty-four months. Most States require the paid, professional finders to provide specific information in order for the contract to be valid. Also many States are requiring the Heir Locator to be licensed to do business within their State.