Written by Clayton Alexander
Checks you forgot to cash, unused insurance benefits, old bank accounts, forgotten safety deposit boxes, even old stocks and bonds. It is just money that falls through the cracks as time goes on. But that money does not just disappear into thin air. Today, the Department of Revenue is holding billions of dollars, and the number grows with each passing year. This lump sum of money is all unclaimed property. It might be hard to believe, but some of it might actually be yours. Despite the name, unclaimed property does not refer to real estate at all. It is more-so used as an umbrella term to describe forgotten assets such as, but not limited to these aforementioned assets.
To be more specific, when these assets are left untouched for longer than three years, and attempts by the banks to contact the owners are unsuccessful, the banks are legally obligated to turn in the money and send it to the State as unclaimed property, where it will remain until it is claimed by the original owner, or kin. More often than not, unclaimed properties are all just money that gets tucked away somewhere and becomes forgotten over the years. This money can go back as far as the early 1950s, when this system first began. As such, it should come as no surprise if you happened to come across some money missed by your parents, if not, a relative you’ve never even met. But where would you even go to begin checking for your possible unclaimed properties? That’s quite simple.
Unclaimed properties in California are managed by the State Controller’s Office. Their official website sco.ga.gov is a great place to find all the information you would need to both learn about and check for unclaimed properties under your name. Alternatively, you can also call their Unclaimed Property Division in Rancho Cordova, CA at (916) 464-0641 during normal business hours. California State Controller Betty Yee reported in early February that they had over $9 billion worth of unclaimed properties in the state alone. Yee urges all Californians to check and see if they have a piece of that lump sum. Unfortunately, there is no one-stop-shop for checking lists of unclaimed properties, you would have to check each state individually or hire a third-party service that specializes in doing this. Be sure to check out any third party services on bbb.org’s business directory.
It should come as no surprise that local state governments will often try to contact the rightful owners and let them know that they can reclaim their lost money or items. This can be considered one of the few times when an unsolicited call can be taken with a grain of salt (within reason). That said, people should still be wary of some of these unclaimed properties callers. It has and continues to be a popular ruse employed by scam artists. If someone calls to inform you that you have some unclaimed money that you are entitled to, try not to take their word for it. Contact the California State Controller’s Office or go to their website and find out for yourself whether or not that money is waiting for you. Of these, the only sites that Better Business Bureau recommends you use to search through the databases of unclaimed properties are MissingMoney.com and Unclaimed.org. You can also check www.usa.gov/unclaimed-money to find more tips on claiming money, such as using a third-party company that can claim your money for you for a fee. Though, it is important to keep in mind the fact that searching for unclaimed property itself is free. As nice as it is to find money that you thought was lost forever, do yourself a favor: keep a sharp eye on your money.
Clayton Alexander is the Storyteller/Communications Specialist at Better Business Bureau serving Central California & Inland Empire Counties.