Virginia may have your money (and it wants to give it back to you)

Virginia has $1.2 billion of people’s unclaimed money. Find out how you can check to see if any of it belongs to you.

UnclaimedProperty-Front

Update #1 — March 15, 2013; 9:07 AM

If you haven’t heard of Unclaimed Property (see below), get on it. It’s a large fund of money ($1.289 billion) comprising what individuals and businesses own, but don’t know they own.

According to Vicki Bridgeman, Director of the Virginia Treasury Department’s Division of Unclaimed Property, Virginians claimed nearly $38 million last year alone. However, $112.6 million of unclaimed money was deposited into the fund last year too.

Maybe it’s a utility bill overpayment that you never received, or money from a forgotten bank account. No matter the reason, Unclaimed Properties keeps that unclaimed money for you. All you have to do is a quick, free online search to find out if you have any. This applies to all current and former Virginia residents (living and dead) and businesses.

Bridgeman said that an individual collected over $837,000, the largest amount given to a single person last year (one company discovered it owned $956,000).

Since 1961, Unclaimed Property has given back Virginians nearly $448 million. Yet, it retains a constant stockpile of unclaimed money, and the agency designates a certain percentage of it yearly to the state’s Literary Fund. Last year, the division awarded the fund $75 million.

But Unclaimed Property would rather people receive those funds. Not only can you check if you have unclaimed money online, but Unclaimed Property regularly travels across the state to educate people about the fund and give unclaimed money back to its rightful owner.

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Original — March 13, 2012

“It’s very, very common to have unclaimed money,” said Brooke Scott, PR and Marketing Specialist at the Virginia Department of the Treasury’s Division of Unclaimed Property, a state agency that is in the business of giving away money. “It’s a great program that not many people know about.”

Simply put: Unclaimed Property collects funds that are entitled to individuals. The money is made up of forgotten bank account balances, insurance money never claimed, utility deposits, among other balances owed to individuals from various companies and institutions. Losing track of this missing money is actually easier than many might think. In fact, one-in-four Virginians have unclaimed money.

For instance, a utility company may owe you money from past overpayments, but can’t reach you as they don’t have your current address; a family member may have created a savings account in your name many years ago; or maybe you bought an insurance policy sometime between the 1930s-1960s.1

Manju Ganeriwala, Treasurer of Virginia, recalls how she first heard of Unclaimed Property. After moving to Virginia roughly twenty-five years ago, she received a letter in the mail from the state of Ohio, where she previously resided, informing her that she had company stock in her name that she did not know about. Years later, Treasurer Ganeriwala said that the service is still relatively unknown by the public. “Not many people know about this function of state government,” she said. Not only does Virginia provide this free service, but so does ever other state in the US. “It’s a very positive thing that state governments do.”

All banks are required by law to attempt contact with the account owner, even if it was a previous customer, should that owner be entitled to money. If no contact is made, that money then goes to the Virginia Treasury Department and the Unclaimed Property division which keeps the funds in the account holder’s name. “Just because we can’t find you doesn’t mean [your] money is not yours,” said Brooke Scott.

Not only does Unclaimed Property help individuals, but also organizations. On February 17th, Unclaimed Property was featured on a Good Morning, America segment. The occasion was to give the Lynchburg Transit Employee Benefit Association a $50,000 certificate of deposit that had been theretofore lost to the association. The final value of the certificate totaled over $84,000.

Since 1961, Unclaimed Property has collected over $1.5 billion, and has given back over $400 million to the rightful owners (or heirs) of unclaimed money. A “non-general fund” organization (i.e. it relies on self-generated income and not tax dollars to operate), Unclaimed Property apportions a certain percentage of unclaimed money that remains unclaimed to the state’s Literary Fund. The Literary Fund uses available financial resources for school construction and renovation, as well as teacher retirement funds. While many may find it difficult to call the Literary Fund undeserving of financial support, Scott said that she and Unclaimed Property would prefer to reacquaint more Virginians with their lost money. “We would love to give it back to them.”

To encourage this, Unclaimed Property has redesigned their website (disclaimer: Unclaimed Properties is a client of RVANews’s parent company) to make it easier for people to both find and collect lost money. Users create a username and enter information to identify themselves and any outstanding funds that they have yet to receive. Brooke Scott said that since December 2011, the online service has seen roughly 20,000 accounts created per month–all individuals and organizations looking to see if they have any extra money. While the program is there to benefit Virginians, not everyone is quick to search for lost money.

Treasurer Ganeriwala said that when people hear the term Unclaimed Property, real estate is what typically pops into their minds. Another drawback the division experiences comes when they set up tables at public events to advertise their service. “People are reluctant to come up because they think it’s a scam,” said Treasurer Ganeriwala. “A lot of people are skeptical when they see government,” she said, saying that some believe it’s a trap to catch individuals with outstanding taxes. Even though Treasurer Ganeriwala says that the service is neither a scam nor trap, “It’s hard to overcome” people’s skepticism.

However, with the recent exposure on Good Morning, America and through simple word of mouth, Treasurer Ganeriwala is confident that more people will learn about Unclaimed Property and their reservoir of missing money eager to be returned to its rightful owner. She told one story of a recent event in northern Virginia at which employers of Unclaimed Property were evangelizing the service. A woman approached and submitted her information. She discovered that she had roughly $26,500 left over from her deceased father’s savings account, to whom she had been estranged for most of her life. “She was crying with tears of joy,” said Treasurer Ganeriwala. She said that there are currently about 137,000 individual claims that amount to more than $1,000 each. However, the service has no claim amount minimum. Even claims with a value of less than $0.10 will be earmarked for the appropriate individual.

“At times like these people need every penny,” said Brooke Scott. Treasurer Ganeriwala agrees: “In the current economy, people are having a hard time filling their gas tanks.” She encourages all Virginians to take a few minutes and use the Unclaimed Properties database. “Just log on. It’s simple.”

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Footnotes

  1. When these then-private institutions later became publicly-traded companies, their early policy holders became stock holders. As a result, their policy became a “very valuable asset,” said Brooke, one many don’t know about. 

 

Photo by: borman818

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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