“That would never happen to me” is my reaction when someone wins the lottery. I used to feel the same way about cashing in with the Unclaimed Property Division of the Indiana Attorney General's office. Not anymore.
Many, many years ago, I checked for my name at the website, now at www.IndianaUnclaimed.gov, and found nothing for me. In recent years, a list of names of people with unclaimed property would appear occasionally in the local newspaper. Nothing ever turned up under my name.
I wasn't surprised. I'm pretty easy to find, having lived in the same town for the past 17 years.
Then a few years ago, I received a rare text from our nephew. It read, “Aunt Cathy, I think you have money.”
I checked the unclaimed property website and discovered the state was holding something for me: a whopping $20. The money accumulated well over a decade ago, generated by a credit card program to save money for college called UPromise.
We lived in a different county at the time. The amount was too small to start the required 529 college savings investment plan and had been kicked back to me, and when my forwarding address information had lapsed, the money had been turned over to the state.
I'm embarrassed to say I did nothing to try to collect the $20. I thought it had to be used for college, and $20 is pretty lame next to our college freshman son's educational costs. Collecting it would be more hassle than it was worth.
Fast forward to about six months ago, when I received a text message from my cousin. “Cathy, you've got unclaimed money.” If I didn't get that $20, I risked being harassed by relatives forever. Yet I still dawdled.
One day, on an anti-procrastination kick, I went to the unclaimed property website. In addition to the $20, a new unclaimed property from 1997 was listed for me: $340 commission from an insurance company for which I had worked.
I followed the website's simple steps, made an online claim and mailed in documents with my old address, my old business envelope and a hand-written note with my social security number. In a month, I received a check for $360 with a note saying, “Please search again soon — property is added on a regular basis.”
To dee if you have unclaimed property, go to www.indianaunclaimed.gov. Type in your name and any names you have used (for women whose names have changed). If a property listing comes up for you, type your information into the boxes to start your claim.
To complete your claim, you will have to mail documents to the state attorney general's Unclaimed Property division in Greenwood. For a simple claim of $1,500 or less, providing your Social Security Number in your cover letter will speed it up. If the claim is for a larger sum or there are circumstances that make it unclear that you are the owner, you may be asked for other documents.
I had home ownership papers showing that my former address matched that on property I was claiming. Once you have started the claim online, you are able to call or ask questions through e-mail. I e-mailed to be sure they had received the paper documents.
My survey of Facebook friends turned up another lucky winner. In 2011, my former college classmate Anne Jongleux of Indianapolis received a business mailer offering to help her collect funds — for a fee. She went to the website and discovered $1,200 in her name. The money was for child support, and she provided her case number and collected it on her own, for free.
“I had no idea that I would ever find this money, and what I thought the state had owed me when I had looked in previous years wasn't what I expected.” Jongleux said. “I've checked a few times since then, but I'm not expecting to find anything. It's definitely worth a few minutes of one's time!”
According to Jaime Barb, marketing coordinator for the attorney general's unclaimed property division, so far this year people have reclaimed about $26.9 million from 38,215 properties, which represents 20,000 individuals. In 2012, $50.8 million was taken in from businesses and $42.9 million was returned to the owners.
Much of the money is from things like forgotten safety deposit boxes, which are eventually liquidated for cash, and utility and rent deposits.
“We have about $350 million in unclaimed property year to year. That number doesn't fluctuate that much because we always have money coming in,” Barb said.
It turns out that, if I hadn't collected my money, after 25 years it would have gone into the state's general fund. Thank goodness for persistent relatives!