Woman spends money for unclaimed junk

March 1, 2011 12:21:55 AM PST
Thousands of Californians have some money coming to them -- abandoned property that's been turned over to the state. But is it always worth claiming? For one woman it became a wild goose chase.

Jane Evans saw 7 On Your Side's recent report about finding forgotten treasures through an unclaimed property website. She checked it out and found she did have something coming to her -- a box with a mystery inside.

Evans decided to go on a treasure hunt and looked up family names on the state's unclaimed property website.

"Up popped the thing that said Bank Of America had closed a safe deposit box in my grandmother's name and my mother was a cosigner," said Evans.

Her mom and grandmother had died so Evans figured she and her brothers were entitled to whatever was inside that box--maybe some forgotten jewelry. But the state controller wouldn't say.

"They provided me the fact there were three items in the box and were deemed of value and couldn't tell me what they were, but they were worth claiming," said Evans.

So Evans filed a claim, but found she had to prove she was the rightful heir.

"So I filed all the forms, there's like a six-page instruction set. They called and said that I needed further documentation," said Evans.

In fact she needed a lot more: notarized statements, death certificates, Bank Of America records, and on and on. The treasure hunt was getting complicated so Evans called the state. Was it worth all this trouble? She got the same reply.

"They couldn't tell me what was in the box, but it was deemed of value and worth claiming," said Evans.

So she kept going. It took a whole year and nearly $100 to dig up and copy all the required papers. Then finally the package arrived.

"I came home and cut the box open and inside is the treasure," said Evans.

Her big reward was carefully bundled in a sheet of bubble wrap. She tore it open, and out it came what she called a piece of junk.

Jane was dumbfounded. The valuable item was a worthless fragment of plastic jewelry.

"I think it's some sort of broken, costume, some sort of little pin," said Evans.

All that work, all those documents, all for a piece of junk? Just to make sure, Evans took it to a jeweler.

"She actually said, 'Well, if you take that little piece of junk out of the Ziplock bag, you could put your half a sandwich in the bag and use the baggie,'" said Evans.

So where were the valuables? It turns out the state auctioned it off 10 years ago. Two rings and a gold coin fetched $22.01. The money went to Bank Of America for the safe deposit box.

Jane couldn't believe state workers spent hours figuring out who is entitled to a worthless trinket -- not to mention spending $15.87 of taxpayer money to send it by registered mail.

And Evans is surprised the state would "mislead citizens to run on wild goose chases for nothing."

So Evans contacted 7 On Your Side and we spoke with the controller's office. It said claim rules are stringent to protect rightful owners. Paperwork is more complicated when the owners are deceased.

Jane is still shaking her head and said, "In the end, it was for nothing."

The controller's office can only give a brief description of what's inside an abandoned safe deposit box. Still, it could not say why Evans was told there were three valuable items in hers, nor why the office would spend so much time and money safeguarding a worthless item.

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