By John Perdue
My office’s unclaimed property division has returned approximately $150 million to rightful owners in my 19-year tenure. I’m proud of that figure but honestly wish less of it ended up there.
Unclaimed property ends up as such because people often misplace or forget about it. They become unintentionally separated from it. Be mindful we’re referring only to financial assets; items seized in law enforcement actions; or objects left behind in safe deposit boxes.
The state’s Unclaimed Property Act is designed to ensure companies and financial entities do not hang onto these abandoned or forgotten assets and reap unfair profits. That’s why the state is charged with holding the assets in custody while it hopes a rightful owner will emerge and claim the amount.
Losing track of one’s money means the owner loses interest earnings, the ability to allocate the funds in other ways and the flexibility that extra cash might offer in a pinch. I don’t want to see any of that happen, though we will try like the devil to get it back to you if we end up with it. So as a consumer protection message, I recommend owners take these steps:
• Keep a record of all bank accounts.
• Indicate your interest in and awareness of all accounts by contacting the holder at least once every three years.
• Record all stock certificates and be sure to cash all dividends received.
• Record all utility deposits, including telephone, cable, and electricity deposits.
• Respond in writing to any requests for confirmation of account balances with banks, stockbrokers and utility companies.
• Prepare a check list of all accounts to be notified when you change your address. Share this list with a family member or trusted advisor.
• Notify your bank, broker, credit card issuer, employer, 401K administrator, life and health insurance contact, mortgage lender, doctor, attorney, accountant, retirement fund, investment account, mutual fund, safe deposit box account, and any others of your name and/or address changes due to marriage, divorce or other legal action.
• Notify your business contacts of your change of address when you move and when the post office notifies you that your address has been changed, even if your physical location remains the same.
• Cash all checks promptly upon receipt, no matter how small.
On another note: should your assets nevertheless end up with my office, it makes no sense to pay anyone to search for or procure the possession for you.
According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, several business firms have used the states’ freedom of information acts to obtain owner information. These firms notify individuals that they will conduct a search for unclaimed property in their name, for a fee.
Many states do not even provide complete records to these firms, to protect your privacy. The bottom line is you may pay them to search if you wish, but all the information is accessible free of charge.
West Virginia residents should go to www.wvtreasury.com or call 1-800-642-8687. The national database is www.MissingMoney.com.
But to avoid looking for your money and us looking for you, we’d rather you not lose it to start with.
John Perdue is West Virginia’s State Treasurer.