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State tries to reunite people, their money

Fri., March 31, 2006

A Washington state Department of Revenue Web site could mean money in the bank to 1.4 million people listed as having unclaimed property.

Among that group are about 1,400 Spokane County residents who are owed over $1,000 or more, said department spokesman Mike Gowrylow.

The updated Web site and its new step-by-step electronic filing system, which came online Monday, should make reclaiming refunds, forgotten bank accounts, neglected inheritance and other miscellaneous property easier.

Last year the Department of Revenue returned $26.1 million to 53,000 people, Gowrylow said, and with the new system in place the department should serve even more claimants this year.

“It’s a neat program. It’s the only program with the Department of Revenue where we give people money instead of taking it from them,” Gowrylow said.

In keeping with the 1955 Uniform Unclaimed Property Law, businesses turn over unclaimed funds along with lists of owed individuals to the Department of Revenue. The department uses a portion of the money to try to locate property owners. Unlike private finder’s companies, the state doesn’t charge a fee.

Although every state has an unclaimed property division (and departments work in conjunction with one another) Washington is one of the few with online filing and the only one with the step-by-step interactive program, Gowrylow said.

The user-friendly Web site beats the old days when Gowrylow recalls manning booths at county fairs to educate people about the program.

“That’s a very inefficient way of reuniting people with their money,” he said.

Sometimes when Department of Revenue staff write or phone people about unclaimed property, they meet with a healthy dose of skepticism.

“People think ‘Oh my gosh, is this for real or is someone trying to get my confidential information?’” Gowrylow said.

Claims tend to run about $100 or less, but he said a Spokane woman recently received nearly $10,000 on an insurance annuity and a Seattle man collected a $567,000 inheritance.

Gregg Sowder, a 53-year-old South Hill resident, got a letter from the Department of Revenue saying he was owed $408.

After checking the letter’s authenticity, Sowder recalled being owed the money by a cell phone company he had a grievance with. He sent in the required photocopy of his driver’s license and proof of his Social Security number and within 30 days received a check, he said.


 

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