CARS HOMES JOBS

$1M a day: Is any of it yours?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013
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Oops! The check had a 2006 date on its face, unearthed in a cleaning frenzy in 2009. How it came to be tucked away and how to redeem it both stumped me.

But not to worry. Comptroller Tom DiNapoli had my back.

The state’s top moneyman, who among other tasks manages the state pension fund, acts as custodian of more than $12 billion in “abandoned” property — money from savings accounts, utility deposits, insurance policies and stock dividends whose owners have gone missing.

It was through the comptroller’s Office of Unclaimed Funds that I was reunited last week with the $21.13 that the 2006 check — a stock dividend — represented.

State law requires that banks, insurance companies, utilities and other businesses turn over dormant accounts or unclaimed holdings after several years of inactivity — when they’re considered abandoned. The comptroller then tries to track down the owners.

Perhaps you’ve encountered outreach efforts by the office at a county fair, street festival or other public event, where employees walk visitors through a database search; you also can search anytime for yourself at the comptroller’s website.

Nikki Jones, the comptroller’s deputy press secretary, said the program returns about $1 million a day in unclaimed money to owners. “There’s never a situation where money can’t be returned,” she said, because “there’s no expiration date” on the abandoned property. In other words, the state will never snatch the money for itself.

But individuals aren’t the only prospective beneficiaries in the state database: so too are municipalities, nonprofits, businesses — even state agencies.

Typing “Schenectady County” into the online database, for example, yields 15 matches that include two for the county jail and one for the Department of Motor Vehicles. “Saratoga County” produces 29 matches, including the sheriff’s department, county Sewer District 1 and Surrogate’s Court.

Municipal names — Niskayuna, Clifton Park, Colonie — will also produce matches, as will the names of specific businesses, chambers of commerce and nonprofits.

There are some stumpers: “Schenectady County C,” for instance, doesn’t tell you much until you look at the street address listed. The entity that turned over the money to the state and the year it did so also are provided, which can offer additional clues.

Jones said the full database maintained by the Office of Unclaimed Funds contains complete names, so “Schenectady County C” would be spelled out in the event that anyone inquired about it.

How many of the 28.6 million accounts in the database represent money due to businesses and municipalities? Jones could not say, although she suspected “the majority of accounts are individuals.” She said the office does no special outreach to alert businesses or municipalities to the unclaimed funds.

Unlike the simple click-through of name, address and Social Security number that returned $21.13 to me, businesses and municipalities have to fill out, notarize and mail a claim form to the comptroller’s office.

And since most individual claims are for less than $100, chances are no budget-gap-closing windfall awaits a municipality. (By law, the office cannot disclose how much money is held until proof of ownership is established.) The check I received last week contained a note from the comptroller saying he was “pleased to be able to return” the money to me.

“I am very committed to reuniting account owners with their unclaimed funds,” it said, “so feel free to encourage others” to do as I had done.

Consider yourself encouraged.

 
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