Free money? Get your unclaimed treasure

May 12, 2009 7:36:47 PM PDT
The state could be holding money that should be in your pocket. It could even be holding a family heirloom. There are some big changes happening at the state's unclaimed property division.

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The state controller has updated the operation.

Springtime in Burlingame seemed like a great time and place for a treasure hunt. So, 7 on Your Side recently set up shop on a downtown sidewalk, with a computer set to www.unclaimed.org. The goal was to make someone's day by finding money held by the state that belongs to them.

It is not always just money. Sometimes it is actual treasure. Deep within a grey Sacramento government building there is a literal treasure room.

"We love helping the people. When we reunite valuable property to their lawful owners, many people are moved," explained State Controller John Chiang.

The state controller's unclaimed property division has undergone big changes in how it is run. The agency is still taking telephone calls and dolling out lost and misplaced cash, but Controller John Chiang has changed the way things are done.

"We are returning record amounts of property. Over the last year plus, we sent out 2.5 million notices to Californians that we have their property," said Chiang.

That is a big deal. In the past, by law, the controller was not allowed to notify most Californians that they had money sitting there. Now, the controller can do that and even more before the property is turned over to the state, a process known as "escheat."

"One of the great things is we are now notifying people that these properties are being held with your bank, their insurance company, your utility company, the pre-escheat notice," Chiang explained.

Chiang convinced the legislature that the change was needed and that is the good news for consumers. The bad news is that the state no longer pays interest on money being held. So, it is more important than ever that citizens get their money now because its value is slipping away.

The website www.unclaimed.org is a favorite at 7 on Your Side. It takes users to the California State Controller's Office and any other state where people could have money. It is important for users to check now if they have never checked before.

Michael Finney is proof of that. He found money under his name while putting this report together.

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