Home USA News A reporter tries an unclaimed money website and finds thousands

A reporter tries an unclaimed money website and finds thousands

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Washington State owes almost everyone money.

At least that’s what it seemed like when I spent a recent morning entering the names of family, friends and colleagues into a state Department of Revenue reference site with missing money.

Washington State requires banks and other businesses make efforts to return unclaimed money from customers. If they cannot, they are sent to the state for safekeeping. It’s hard to say how hard these businesses are trying because the state is sitting on $1.8 billion right now.

At least 80 percent of the 50 or so names I searched got paid.

Except me.

That’s how it all started with dreams of sipping piña coladas at a Hawaiian resort, lighting cigars with $100 bills, all part of a new treasure I would surely discover with the click of a mouse claimyourcash.org.

It turns out that the state owes money to many sailors, but not to me.

Then I saw my mother’s last name listed. The alarm company she used years ago owed her $50.

Encouraged, I began entering new names. My neighbor only had a few dollars, but my doctor had about 20 items to his name totaling hundreds of dollars.

I even looked up my editor, Adam Lin, and found over $100 for him. I called him with the news and his usual grumpiness eased for a moment.

“Send me this website,” he said before hanging up.

I sent happy texts to everyone as I discovered that money was coming to them. Most of them were well received, but a friend in Seattle thought I was a fraud when I messaged him. I gave some personal details to convince him and he ended up with a couple of hundred dollars.

“Are you stalking me online?” asked another friend. I think she was joking.

Big money

One of the friends I contacted, Michelle Neary, already knew about the site. As a small business owner in Olympia, she checks it periodically. When I told her about my success, she also started looking for others in her circle.

That’s why her nephew in Hakiam, Jake Biscay, will soon receive $2,400 from the state. It was great to hear about Biscay’s windfall, but it begs the question: How exactly does one lose $2,400?

I called Biscay.

“I really don’t know,” Biscay said. “I think it had something to do with when I went to school in Bellingham.”

The money came from a bank in Bellingham, but he never used it. Biscay thinks that the grant intended for his studies never reached him.

Biscay’s cousin told him about the site a few years ago, but Biscay brushed it off, as many do, because he didn’t know he was owed money.

Process

Biscay said the process of filling out the form and uploading the documents was simple.

For others, the process can be difficult. The government needs to be convinced of your identity (a standard driver’s license or ID will do) and you need to prove that you are connected to the address listed for each item. If you can’t prove you lived at that address, it can be difficult to file a claim.

After submitting an individual claim, the Department of Revenue sends claimants an electronic form to be filled and uploaded along with the required documents. The phone’s camera is suitable for copying documents.

Time is money and you will need to figure out if it is worth bothering to file a claim.

Best case scenario: A large cash item attached to an address you still live at.

Worst case scenario: A tiny piece of an item attached to a deceased family member’s estate linked to a years-old address.

The employee discovered that her late mother owed less than $25. The eight documents she would need to establish identity, date of death, inheritance, addresses and other information were simply not worth the trouble, she decided.

A Normandy Park friend received $400 after I found her deceased husband’s name. The largest payout was from an employment agency he worked for more than two decades ago. As his widow, she is the rightful heir to the money.

Another friend discovered that his late mother owed $50 from Nordstrom. The family has not lived at the Olympia address listed with the item for decades. The money will most likely never be claimed.

Skeptical users

Currently, there are 11.1 million individual objects of unclaimed property in the state database. Washington has only 7.7 million residents. I’m no mathematician, but I’d say it’s better than The odds are 1 in 225 million you have a Powerball win.

The odds were in my friend Eoin MacReady’s favor when I spotted his name in the database. The mortgage company owed him $278 from the sale of the property.

“It will pay for my groceries,” he said.

If you have an unusual name like McReady’s, you’ll find yourself pretty quickly. For Jane Smith, Francisco Garcia, and other common names, you can narrow your search by adding all the cities you lived in while in Washington.

Washington’s Department of Unclaimed Money and its website are not new. The law that brought it into effect was passed in 1955, but it did not take effect until the 1980s. And like many other things, the Internet has made it easier to find that money.

Still, IRS Administrator Joseph Gisler told me, the agency is constantly battling consumer skepticism about the site.

“There are millions of people who think this is a scam,” Giesler said, looking a little disappointed. The department is promoting the site and setting up information booths at community events throughout the state.

“Our tent and everything is ‘Department of Revenue.’ People still think (it’s a scam),” he said.

A stumbling block for some is the requirement of a Social Security number to file a claim. But you don’t need a number to search the database.

Money season

In June, the state added $246 million in unclaimed assets to its cash hoard.

Giesler says he searches for his own name twice a year. Most of the new funds appear at the Department of Revenue between July and October, when businesses must report and hand over the funds after a three-year grace period. But they usually don’t appear on the website until January or February.

The largest recent claim was for $2.4 million, Giesler said. He could not provide details, but said he has three people working as locators, tracking down people involved in large claims — usually $10,000 or more.

When a new property arrives, the Department of Revenue sends a postcard to the address associated with each item, but only if it is worth $75 or more.

Most items, from my unscientific reading, are $25 or less. The average claim amount, Giesler said, is $130.

Other states

Almost every state has its own version of Washington’s Missing Money website. If you lived in another state, it might be helpful to check them out.

A legit site that Giesler recommends missingmoney.comwhich collects information from most – but not all – states.

Giesler said he is wary of third-party companies that will look for your missing money for a finder’s fee. You can do the same job they offer in seconds and you get to keep all the money.

“We want the money back,” Giesler said. “Just don’t assume you won’t have unclaimed property because you’re doing well with your finances. It has nothing to do with it.”

Craig Saylor has worked for The News Tribune since 1998 as a writer, editor and photographer. He previously worked for The Olympian and other newspapers in Nevada and California. He graduated from San Jose State University with a degree in journalism.

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