EPISODE 43 ~ FIND YOURS: Unclaimed Money: How The Government Might Claim Your Money That Isn’t Missing

What if the government seized an account of yours as unclaimed money, even though it wasn’t unclaimed?  It happens all the time and that’s today’s “find yours topic.” 

For Carla Ruff of San Francisco, it was her safe deposit box that was drilled, opened and turned over the the state of California.  When I did a story about this for Good Morning America, we started calling them “not-so-safe” deposit boxes after we heard Carla’s story.

  Her case was particularly egregious.  She lived about 6 blocks from the bank and had a checking account there.  She received monthly statements for that account, so clearly the bank knew who she was and even knew her address.  And yet, for some, reason, the bank decided her safe deposit box was abandoned and handed the contents over to the state.

Once the state had the contents, it auctioned off Carla’s great grandmother’s precious natural pearls and other jewelry for 18-thousand dollars.  That, even though her own appraisal showed they were worth more like 82-thousand.  It hurt because she and her great grandmother had been very close.

So what’s going on here?  Why would a bank turn over somebody’s account to the state when it really wasn’t unclaimed?  It’s a combination of sloppy record-keeping and responding to pressure.  Yep, I mean that. 

Many states are facing budget crises and so they are grabbing money anywhere they can get it.  That’s why they put a lot of pressure on banks and other financial firms to turn over abandoned property.  They want to USE that money.  In California, unclaimed money is pumped into the General Fund.  Which means if everybody decided to claim their missing money at once, California would struggle to come up with the cash.  Frankly, they want as much as money as they can get and they’re hoping you won’t ever claim it.

Back when I did my investigation, I obtained a secret memo written by California’s then-head of unclaimed property in which he argued against expanding programs to let citizens know about their unclaimed money.   “It could well result in additional claims of money that would otherwise flow into the general fund,” he wrote.

It’s come to this.  States originally started forcing private industry to turn over abandoned accounts on the pretense that they would be better stewards of citizen’s money and hold it for safekeeping.  Some states do a great job of that.  Others, not so much.

That’s  why I urge you to search for and claim your missing money as soon as possible.  Or… listen to Episode 18 where I talk about how to keep your  money from becoming unclaimed money in the first place. 

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