Do you have money hiding in plain sight? How to find out

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KGO) -- If the State Controller's Office is on track this month, California's Unclaimed Property division will process 33,000 property claims worth $23 million. Many Californians are receiving found money because of the state controller's hard work.

But there are others who may be owed money that is hiding in plain sight. California's Unclaimed Property Law requires companies to report and submit their customers' property to the State Controller's Office when the customer cannot be located.

Most of us think of the California State Controller's unclaimed property division and website as a place that delivers up found money.

At a 7 On Your side Pop-up, we found money for one man who had no idea he had anything coming.

He says, "$135 from Texas Instruments. That's cool".

However, not everyone is smiling.

"There are vast number of errors in the database," says Julie Carlson from Antioch. "That prevents certain property records from showing up in searches".

Carlson has spent months downloading files from the state's unclaimed property records and crunching the data. She's taking me out for a spin.

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The state's website looks easy and straight forward; the form has a space for your last name, first name, middle initial, and the city where you live.

Carlson inputs a name. The person lives in San Francisco. She enters that in too, and we find no unclaimed money.

"If your particular property record in the database has your city name misspelled," she tells me, "and you put in the correct spelling of your city, it is not going to pull up."

So then, she misspells the city name substituting San Francisco with "San Francicalif."

The database found $4,307 in unclaimed money appearing on the screen. Four grand hiding in plain sight.

If you go far enough into the unclaimed property website, a helpful video explains that saying in part, "When narrowing the search by city, you can enter partial information, for example, if you lived in Sacramento you can just enter "Sac" for the city."

The video offers other search tips, too.

"Also try common misspellings of your name," it says, and "Another common situation is the first and last name were reversed by the business reporting the property."

Great advice, but it gets weirder than that.

RELATED: How to find out if some of California's $9.3 billion in unclaimed property is yours

Carlson tries another name. The correct first and last name don't work, but she does manage to find the person and a bunch of cash, anyway.

I ask her how she found the person and their money. She answers, "We didn't follow what the screen said. We just started plugging in information that we knew about yourself or family members and stuck them in spots until we hit the right combination and viola."

Carlson is adamant; the state should clean up the database so you have a better chance of finding your money.

I took her concerns directly to the California State Controller, Betty T. Yee, "She said she is horrified at all the inaccuracies," I told Yee. And she answers, "Well, by law, my office is required to post the information as we receive it from the businesses."

That's right, Yee says she is not allowed to clean up the database even if there are obvious misspellings like "FrancisCalif."

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And if the law were to change? "I would be open to whatever helps us really facilitate reuniting the property," Yee says, "but if a bill like that were introduced, the utmost consideration has to be protecting a person's identifying information."

Which brings us back to Carlson. "If their goal, which they claim to be, is to reunite people with their property, the property that belongs to them, then by golly they should do everything in their power to make that happen."

Now the reason Carlson was able to download the files because Controller Yee just made all those files available. So advancements are occurring.

If you want to look into this further, here is the Controller's Office unclaimed property website.

And Carlson has set-up an email, HiddenMoney@att.net, to talk with those who are interested.

One final note. When checking the unclaimed database try the last name "trust." Many trust accounts are incorrectly inputted and your last name may be the middle name.

Take a look at more stories by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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