How to Find Lost Money


Before the internet was fully developed I had read up on how to find lost money, forgotten accounts, unclaimed mortgage insurance refunds and more--as a service for others. The basic idea was that people forgot about accounts, had refunds coming back from insurance policies that they had canceled, and sometimes even tax refunds that didn't make it to their mailbox. All of these types of lost money are "escheated" to the state, meaning the state takes the money, perhaps theoretically makes a final attempt to contact the rightful owner, and then enters the name and amount into their database, waiting for the day when the owner or heir claims it.

If you wanted to, at that time, you could look through those records, find some of the bigger accounts, and then locate the proper owner and offer to show them where they had some money coming, for a 30% fee. That was the late-night infomercial version of how the business worked anyhow. In reality, some states required you to be a licensed private investigator to look for any records other than your own, and many made the process difficult.

Everything changed once these state records made it online. Now you can go and search your own name, the names of family friends and even strangers, to see if there is money being held by the state. When I learned of this I did a quick search, and found a few names that looked familiar. I had my father search and he found an old insurance refund that belonged to my mother. A bit of paperwork and she got almost $900 that she never knew she had coming.

Don't think the state will find you, and don't believe they care. My mother was the only one with her name in Michigan, so it would have taken three minutes of serious research to locate her. Worse than that, there was a recent new report about states that are paying a finder's fee to auditors who locate old accounts that should be turned over to the state. You see, after a certain number of years of inactivity, banks and other financial institutions are supposed to close an account and send the proceeds to the state. The money still belongs to the original owner in theory, but the state gets to use it in the meantime, and state governments don't appear to be making any efforts at all to even pick up the phone to call the easy-to-locate owners.

How do you find lost money that the state may be holding for you or your loved ones? Start here:

Follow the links to your state web site and do a few searches. Try any versions of your name that you use. If you spot an account, check with the state about the details (especially if your name is common and the money may belong to another), and ask for the paperwork you need to fill out.

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