While LeBron James has found a new home in Los Angeles, he’s left a little something behind in Cleveland. I’m not talking about disappointed fans or teammates, but something else: money. It’s the old concept of “lost and found.” Although in this case, there’s a good chance he doesn’t even know the money is lost. Apparently, 21st Century Fox may owe him over $100. According to the LA Times, he purchased his Brentwood, California home for just under $21 million, so I don’t think the $100 will cover his mortgage payment but something like that can get you a free year of Netflix.
There are numerous places where refunds or other types of lost and found dollars may be hiding. Knowing where to look and what to look for can help simplify the process. In Illinois, for example, the treasurer’s website states there is $2.9 BILLION that is yet to be claimed by individuals and corporations.
But if you’re one of the many with money in a lost and found, what do you need to do? There’s a process to filing a claim for these funds, but before jumping in head first, you’ll need to pay attention to the websites you are using, what information is needed, and the potential for scams that can compromise your personal information. You may be able to prevent future occurrences of your name getting on these lists by making sure companies you do business with have accurate and updated information such as addresses and phone numbers. In some instances, you may not know that someone put money in a lost and found for you, so you’ll want to either check with the agency responsible for holding the funds or your state on an annual basis. Your financial advisor may aid you in this process as well.
So, what is a lost and found and where did it come from? When talking about property that is unclaimed, I am referring to intangible property such as bank accounts, utility refunds, insurance premiums, uncashed checks, and stock dividends. Note that real estate and vehicles are excluded from this conversation. The federal government does not maintain a master database of all property that remains unclaimed. Individual states are a great resource for the majority of lost and found items, but so are the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) for tax refunds, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) for bank failures, and the U.S. Department of Labor for unpaid back wages. In the 1950s and 1960s, some states started adopting the Uniform Disposition of Unclaimed Property Act. This act has been amended over the years to further provide consumer protections for the owners of the property and their heirs.
As mentioned above, there are numerous types of unclaimed property. If you lost that federal tax refund check from a couple years ago, the federal government is holding your money and preventing you from earning interest on it. Job changes are made for various reasons, but sometimes once the switch is made, we forget about our old company and what may be left behind. Occasionally there are old pension plans or employer-provided benefits that are forgotten but can potentially be recovered through the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. You also may switch banks due to a move, and when you close your old account that bank may owe you interest or some type of refund that goes uncashed because it was sent to an old address. The same can be true for utility company refunds, auto insurance premium refunds, old savings bonds, and stock dividend checks. The internet has made these searches a lot easier, and more and more states are eager to help their citizens find money that is owed to them.
One of the first places to search is your state or a state that you may have lived in. Generally, you can just start a search with minimal information (e.g. name). For IRS tax refunds, you’ll need a name, social security number, and the exact amount of the refund. The more information you have, the more accurate your claim can be and the quicker you will be able to receive your unclaimed property.
Once You’ve Found the Money
Once you’ve found some money , what do you do? I will focus on the process in Illinois, but other states may have either the same or a similar process for making a claim. Claims can be made by the owner(s) or heir(s). For example, filing a claim is somewhat similar to opening a bank account. You can usually start the process online and complete it by providing the institution with the appropriate documentation proving you are who you are. The same is true when you have found something in your state’s lost and found. Your financial advisor may be able to assist you as part of the services they provide.
When you are asked to prove who you are, typically the state—or whichever agency you are working with—will want to know your social security number, date of birth, and address.
You don’t want to give out this information to just anybody, so you will want to make sure you are taking all the necessary precautions. Security is important. Make sure you are accessing your state’s website securely. For the State of Illinois, it’s https://icash.illinoistreasurer.gov. (Note that the s at the end of “https” stands for “secure”.) If you feel the website you’re accessing may not be safe, contact your state directly. Illinois doesn’t require you to put your social security number on their website, but if you don’t, the process may be delayed and you may still have to fill in a form with your social security number and mail it via snail mail to the state.
States are aware of privacy laws and usually do their best to safeguard your information, but accessing these websites should be done when you have a secure and safe internet connection and are not on public WiFi where someone could snoop on your computer. There have also been instances where people disguise themselves as working on behalf of the government and trick you into sending them a “fee” to get your unclaimed money. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) advises not wiring money to someone you don’t know, not providing personal information, and double checking with the state or governing body to verify that the letter or call you received is legitimate.
Finding lost money is wonderful but not losing it can save time, effort, and interest being earned on your money. Make sure you are diligent in updating contact information if you switch providers or change addresses. A lot of unclaimed checks are due to address changes where the check was issued after the post office address change notification ended.
Not everyone will have lost or abandoned property, but it can be worth looking into since the majority of the time you may not know you lost it.